Jaundice: Not A Disease, But A Symptom

What Is Jaundice?

Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, is not a disease itself but a symptom of an underlying disorder. The discoloration occurs when excessive amounts of the body pigment bilirubin accumulate in the bloodstream. Normally bilirubin — a natural byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver — mixes with the digestive juice bile and passes harmlessly out of the body through the digestive tract. But if the liver is not functioning properly or the passage of bile is obstructed (perhaps by gallstones), bilirubin backs up into the blood. Jaundice in newborns and very young children, in most cases, is relatively benign. But in older children and adults it can be a sign of a more serious ailment.

Causes

Jaundice indicates the malfunctioning of the liver or the gallbladder due to some other underlying problem. The diseases that can cause jaundice in a person are:-

  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Tumors in the liver or gallbladder
  • Gallstones

Jaundice can also be caused due to proliferation of the liver due to excessive drug intake, alcohol abuse or smoking. Sometimes, jaundice is a result of wrong techniques adopted during blood transfusion. Etiologically speaking, jaundice occurs when the bile cannot be ejected from the body of a person. In a normal human body, the red blood corpuscles in the body continuously break down after some time. When this happens, the heme of the hemoglobin undergoes two important conversions. In the spleen, heme is converted to a greenish yellow substance known as bilirubin and in the liver, heme is converted to hepatocytes. Bilirubin goes to the liver where it is processed into bile. Bile is necessary for digestion. The excess bilirubin is discarded with fecal matter. However, if this bilirubin cannot be discarded, then it remains in the bloodstream causing yellowness of the skin. This is the onset of jaundice.

Prevention

The most important step in prevention of Hepatitis B infection is vaccination. Three doses of the vaccine need to be given at intervals of one month each or alternately two doses may be given at monthly intervals followed by the third dose at the sixth month. The immunity lasts for five years and booster doses are required after that period. It is important to avoid causes of liver disease such as alcohol abuse, drugs, and toxins. Prompt treatment of underlying hepatic disorders or pathology is essential to prevent or minimize permanent damage to the liver.

Treatment

In mild or moderate levels of jaundice, by 5 to 7 days of age the baby will take care of the excess bilirubin on its own. If high levels of jaundice do not clear up, phototherapy – treatment with a special light that helps rid the body of the bilirubin by altering it or making it easier for your baby’s liver to get rid of it – may be prescribed.
More frequent feedings of breast milk or formula to help infants pass the bilirubin in their stools may also be recommended. In rare cases, a blood exchange may be required to give a baby fresh blood and remove the bilirubin.
If your baby develops jaundice that lasts more than a week, your doctor may ask you to temporarily stop breastfeeding. During this time, you can pump your breasts so you can keep producing breast milk and you can start nursing again once the condition has cleared.
If the amount of bilirubin is high, your baby may be readmitted to the hospital for treatment. Once the bilirubin level drops, however, it is unlikely it will increase again.
The cause of jaundice must be determined before treatment can be given. Prescribed therapy is to be followed to treat the underlying cause. Treatment of jaundice depends upon an individual case. In most cases, it is treated with antibiotics, a mild case usually resolves on its own. The disease leaves a lot of weakness in its wake and thus recuperation may take a long time. Generally, the best way to treat jaundice is to correct the underlying cause; the exact remedy depends on the nature and severity of the case.

  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
  • Eat lots of raw fruits and vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables)
  • Juice is good (make your own with a juice machine)
  • Do not drink coffee, alcohol, soda pop, other junk food drinks
  • Do not eat processed foods white sugar, white flour, etc.
  • Use stress relief like going for walks in the park
  • Brown rice and millet are good
  • Avoid red meat and animal fats
  • Reduce dairy products cheese, milk, and others
  • Fast a few days a month
  • A colon intestinal cleansing is helpful
  • Get sleep
  • Exercise light to moderate amounts eg. yoga and stretching are good
  • Do not smoke and avoid second hand smoke