The term jaundice refers to a yellowing of the skin, nail beds and whites of the eyes. This is caused by the accumulation of a greenish–yellow substance (called bilirubin) in the blood and tissues of the body.
Symptoms and signs
Some of the symptoms and signs of jaundice include the following:
- Yellowing of the skin, nail beds and eyes
- Yellowing of the mucus membrane, the lining that covers passageways or openings in the body such as the nose and mouth
- Itchy skin
- Pain and tenderness in the abdomen
- Dark urine
- Pale-colored feces
- Swollen legs and abdomen
Causes and pathology
Jaundice is categorized into three different forms, depending on what the underlying cause of the bilirubin build-up is. The different types of jaundice are described below.
- Pre-hepatic jaundice – Here, the bilirubin level is disrupted prior to transportation of blood to the liver. Examples of conditions that cause this type of jaundice are hemolytic anemia and sickle cell disease.
- Hepatocellular jaundice – Here, the disrupted bilirubin is caused by disease in the liver and examples of conditions that cause this include liver cirrhosis and Gilbert’s syndrome.
- Post-hepatic jaundice or obstructive jaundice – Here, bile and therefore the bilirubin contained inside it, is obstructed and prevented from draining into the digestive system from the gallbladder. Examples of factors that may cause this are tumors and gallstones.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc