Jaundice is a liver or bile problem that is characterized by the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, caused by excessive amounts of the chemical bilirubin in the blood.
Bilirubin is a waste product of blood when iron has been removed from it. One of the liver’s functions is to secrete bile, which binds bilirubin and other waste products for elimination as feces.
Jaundice occurs when too much bilirubin is produced; the liver finds it difficult to fully eliminate it from the blood. Jaundice also develops when there is a blockage of the bile ducts that prevents bile and bilirubin from going into the intestines.
The bilirubin is not excreted as feces; instead, it is excreted through the urine, which jaundice turns dark or brownish in color. Aside from the skin’s yellow color and dark urine, a jaundice patient also experiences itching, or pruritus. This itching sometimes gets so severe that a patient can scratch his skin until it bleeds.
Anything that causes the red blood cells to break down can also cause jaundice – malaria, sickle cell anemia, and kidney disease. Acute hepatitis and alcoholic liver disease can also cause jaundice.
Gallstones in the bile duct, pancreatic cancer and biliary atresia also contribute to the development of jaundice. Treating the underlying medical condition will also treat the jaundice; it is therefore recommended to find out what in particular caused the jaundice.