view all articlesJaundice, disease or symptom?

26 January 2015

Jaundice (icterus) is not a disease, but rather a symptom of a specific liver afflictions such as hepatitis. It is more common with hepatitis A, but is also one of the symptoms of hepatitis C. But what is exactly jaundice and how is it caused?

What is jaundice?

Jaundice or icterus is not really a disease, but a symptom that occurs with different liver afflictions. Jaundice is a yellowish pigmentation of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Jaundice is in itself not contagious, but the viral liver inflammation that causes it may well be. Hepatitis A also used to be called jaundice, because the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes were an indication of this liver infection in many cases.

Other symptoms associated with jaundice
Besides yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, jaundice is also associated with itch, discoloured faeces and dark-coloured urine. The complaints that an individual jaundice patient suffers depend on the particular cause.

The causes
Jaundice is caused by an excessively high blood bilirubin level. Bilirubin is produced from the breakdown of hemoglobin in aged red blood cells. A healthy liver filters bilirubin out of the blood and metabolises it into bile salts. and secretes waste products to form the pigments of bile that, after passing through the the gallbladder and the small intestine, exit the body with the faeces. If the liver is severely damaged, its ability to absorb and metabolise bilirubin is impaired. As a result, waste substances accumulate in the blood. The yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes is due to the intense yellow colour of bilirubin.

Can jaundice be treated?
The treatment of jaundice depends on the extent of liver inflammation or disease and the related complaints. Jaundice can also occur in conjunction with several liver illnesses for which no treatment is required or available. For example, the body usually clears hepatitis A on its own and no specific treatment is required. However, you can be vaccinated against infection. With hepatitis C, treatment is available for combating the virus.

Jaundice & hepatitis C

One of the diseases related to jaundice is hepatitis C. In the initial phase of liver inflammation most people hardly notice anything and experience no or negligible complaints. The symptoms of hepatitis C usually occur at a later stage. People usually suffer from fatigue, but although jaundice can occur in conjunction with hepatitis C, it is relatively uncommon.

If you have jaundice and you think you might have hepatitis C, consult your (family) doctor and have yourself tested!

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