A person with jaundice is more likely to have yellowish tinge to their skin and white part of the eyes. Most newborns develop this condition. But jaundice can occur in people of all ages. The buildup of bilirubin levels in the blood and body tissues is what causes jaundice. The rise in bilirubin levels may be due to an underlying condition that affects the liver such as hepatitis, cirrhosis or gallstones. Hence a proper jaundice diagnosis is required for treatment of this condition and the underlying condition causing it. Moreover, doctors will try to give treatment for the underlying condition that’s causing jaundice and not just for jaundice alone.
Types of jaundice
Jaundice is of three main types:
- Hemolytic jaundice – An increased rate of breakdown of red blood cells lead to a rise in bilirubin production
- Hepatocellular jaundice – occurs due to liver injury or disease
- Obstructive jaundice – An obstruction in the bile duct prevents the secretion of bilirubin from the liver.
Jaundice is usually due to an underlying condition and should not be related with jaundice in infants.
A proper jaundice diagnosis that involves identifying the specific cause helps to choose the best jaundice treatment options. Doctors would then give treatment that targets the cause and not just the jaundice. Treatment for jaundice due to anemia involves elevating the amount of iron in the blood by recommending iron rich foods or iron supplements.
For the treatment of jaundice due to obstruction, doctor may perform surgery to remove the obstruction. Anti-viral medications or steroids are used in the jaundice treatment due to hepatitis. If jaundice occurs due to medication, then discontinuing those medications and selecting other alternatives helps to treat the condition.
Doctors will look at patient’s history and conduct a physical exam specifically observing the abdomen for jaundice diagnosis. They will especially look for any tumors in the abdomen or for any firmness of the liver. A rock hard liver may indicate cancer while a firm liver may indicate cirrhosis.
In order to determine the severity of jaundice, several tests are required. Firstly liver function test helps to check whether the liver is properly functioning or not. If the liver test cannot identify the cause of the symptoms, the doctor may recommend blood tests to check bilirubin levels and for the evaluation of blood composition. Below are some of the tests:
- Complete blood count or Full blood count – This test helps to measure the levels of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
- Bilirubin tests – Higher levels of unconjugated bilirubin levels than conjugated bilirubin levels indicates hemolysis.
- Tests for hepatitis A, B & C
If jaundice is due to obstruction of liver, doctor will recommend imaging tests to have a look at the liver’s structure. Below are some of the imaging tests:
- CT Scan – helps to create image slices of soft tissues in the body using a thin X-ray beam.
- MRI Scan – creates image slices of the soft tissues using magnetic signals.
- Abdominal Ultrasound – creates a 2D image of the soft tissues of the human body using high frequency sound waves.
- ERCP – It is a procedure combining X-ray imaging and endoscopy.
Liver biopsy is helpful for diagnosing cirrhosis, inflammation, fatty liver and cancer.
Complications from jaundice
Itching is a serious complication of jaundice when it is intense. It may make the patients scratch their skin, have insomnia or may sometimes commit suicide due to it. The underlying cause of jaundice is the main culprit behind most complications. For instance, jaundice due to bile duct obstruction can sometimes lead to uncontrolled bleeding which again is due to deficiency of blood clotting vitamins.
Jaundice disrupts the function of the liver. Hence it is important that you maintain your liver’s health by having a well balanced diet, refraining from excessive amounts of alcohol and by regular exercise.