Jaundice (also known as icterus) is a condition that results in the yellowing of the skin, the whites of the eyes, and the inside of the mouth. This condition is caused by high levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow-colored by-product of the body’s metabolism of hemoglobin, the iron-containing constituent of red blood cells.
The substance is excreted in bile and urine and is responsible for the brown pigmentation in bruises and feces. When the levels of this substance are too high, the excess spills out into tissues in the area, soaking them in yellow; thus the reasoning behind why a person’s skin, etc. turns yellow, when it comes to jaundice.
The word “jaundice” is derived from the French word, jaune, meaning yellow. Jaundice often accompanies liver diseases such as hepatitis or liver cancer. Since jaundice is not a disease, rather a condition which points to a hidden disease process within the body, any illness that results in the breakdown of the pancreas or liver, which interferes with bile drainage or corrupts red blood cells, can cause jaundice. In addition, the possibility of developing jaundice also increases significantly if you have any of the following conditions:
• Sickle Cell Anemia – This blood condition results in abnormally shaped and defective red blood cells, which can lead to the production of excessive bilirubin and jaundice.
• Severe Malaria – In cases of severe, untreated malaria, plasmodium cells attack and infect both the liver and red blood cells. The breakdown of red blood cells and liver function produce excessive bilirubin which causes the tell-tale yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucus cells in the mouth.
• Severe Alcoholism – Alcoholism leading to cirrhosis of the liver may also cause jaundice since the disease interferes with the healthy operation of the liver and an imbalance in the processing of bilirubin.
It’s important to note, jaundice should not be confused with carotenemia, a harmless condition that results in the yellowish coloration of the palms and soles of the feet (but not the skin, eyes, or mouth). Carotenemia is harmless and is usually the result of excessive or prolonged ingestion of foods rich in beta carotene, such as carrot juice.
Regardless, being tuned into the signs of jaundice is import, so that you can visit your doctor, and look into treatment options. The top ten signs and symptoms of jaundice are as follows:
As mentioned above, the main sign of jaundice is a yellowing of the skin, eyes, and lining of the mouth. Eyes are often the first to show an elevation of bilirubin and yellowing. It’s important to note, that not all skin discoloration (as well as eyes and mouth) will appear the same, and depending on the severity of the jaundice and what underlying illness has caused the condition, the yellowing will vary. At the end of the day, yellow pigmentation is really a tell-tale sign of the jaundice, so if you notice this on you, or a loved one, a visit to the doctor is highly recommended.