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Don’t be Yellow: Treating Jaundice

Jaundice is best known as a condition many babies have when they’re born. However, jaundice in  adults is a fairly common problem. You will be able to tell you have jaundice just by looking in the mirror: your skin will have a yellow tinge, and the whites of your eyes will be yellow, too.

If you are wondering about your changing complexion, we might be able to direct you to the underlying cause. If you are in pain as well, we have a strong commitment to helping you see the way through. At Nually, we have a wealth of knowledge from dedicated professionals. 

Our goal is to give you information that is both accurate and easy to access, covering a wide range of diseases and their treatments. 

Jaundice Overview

Jaundice, or hyperbilirubinemia, occurs when your body is not disposing of bilirubin properly. Bilirubin is a yellow-orange waste material found in your blood after the removal of iron. It joins with bile produced by the liver, then together both materials leave the body. 

If your liver is not healthy, or if your bile duct is not functioning correctly, there is a buildup of bilirubin. If the bilirubin cannot exit the way it should, it can leak into the surrounding tissues, and your skin starts to look yellow. You may also have itchy skin, light-colored stools, and your urine may have a dark color. If bilirubin builds up to very high levels, your skin may even turn brown. 

Other Symptoms of Jaundice

If you have jaundice, you will most likely be yellow. But you may also be suffering too. Jaundice can cause you to feel tired, lose weight or vomit. You may even suffer from abdominal pain or fever. 

What Causes Jaundice?

Jaundice is usually a result of an underlying condition. 

  • Jaundice can be a side effect of another disease, such as Hepatitis. Any condition that can cause damage to the liver can lead to jaundice.

  • Gilbert’s syndrome is a genetic condition that causes you to have a low level of the enzyme in the liver that processes bilirubin. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is not a severe condition, and you may not know you have it for a long time. It may cause your skin to turn yellow only under certain circumstances; such as fasting, menstruation, or lack of sleep.

  • Consuming too much alcohol over a long period can lead to jaundice. Alcohol-related diseases such as Alcoholic Cirrhosis and Alcoholic Hepatitis in particular cause jaundice in adults.

  • Pancreatic cancer in men or women can cause jaundice. A tumor could block the bile duct connecting the liver to the pancreas.

  • In some cases, a medication causes liver disease. Birth-control pills, Acetaminophen, and steroids, among others, when taken for a long time, can damage your liver.

  • Gallstones or gallbladder cancer can also hinder the proper disposal of bilirubin.

  • Hemolytic anemia: when too many red blood cells are being broken down, and the bilirubin disposal cannot keep up.

  • Cholestasis is when bile is not allowed to flow naturally from the liver. The bile stays in the liver, and the bilirubin secretes into the surrounding tissue.  

Diagnosing Jaundice

Your doctor will take one look at your golden tinge and administer a bilirubin test to see the extent of the damage. He will also call for a complete blood count, and may conduct other tests for your liver. If you have jaundice, your bilirubin count will be high.

Treating Jaundice in Adults

A baby with very high bilirubin levels will be given phototherapy to help neutralize the bilirubin, but jaundice in adults does not have a direct treatment. Your doctor will move on from the jaundice diagnosis and start looking for the underlying cause. Depending on the cause, it may be left to correct itself, or it may respond to medication or herbal supplements. 

Treating Jaundice Caused by Anemia

If your jaundice is a result of low iron, jaundice may be corrected with an iron supplement. By increasing the iron, you absorb by eating iron-rich foods. Food high in iron includes:

  • shellfish, oysters, halibut, salmon, tuna

  • spinach and other dark leafy greens

  • liver

  • legumes

  • lean red meat

  • ham

  • pumpkin seeds

  • quinoa

  • turkey

  • broccoli

  • cashews

  • fortified cereals

  • dark chocolate - our favorite!

Treating Jaundice Caused by Hepatitis

Jaundice caused by a virus will require an antiviral or steroid medication. There are several options for your doctor to choose from, and they may slow the damage caused to your liver by Hepatitis.  Once the liver begins to heal, jaundice will correct itself. 

Treating Jaundice Caused by a Blockage

Your jaundice may have been the symptom that revealed a more severe health issue, such as pancreatic cancer or gallstones. In these cases, your doctor will likely surgically remove the obstruction, which will allow the normal function of the liver to resume. 

Managing Jaundice Pain

Jaundice itself does not usually cause pain, however many of the causes of jaundice can cause you to feel mild to acute pain in your abdomen. Gallstones, tumors, and other blockages may be causing your jaundice and subjecting you to pain as well. Seek medical attention if you notice a yellow tinge to your skin, especially if it is accompanied by pain, and your doctor can treat the pain by understanding the underlying cause of both symptoms together. 

Goodbye Jaundice, Yellow Health!

Jaundice is a condition that is not harmful itself, but it can be an indicator of many different diseases. Some of them are mild, some more serious. Keeping your liver healthy with plenty of sleep, exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption will go a long way to fending off many of the diseases that cause jaundice.

Final Thoughts

If your jaundice has you puzzled, or if you would like to learn more about your health, let us give you some answers. Treating jaundice in adults is relatively easy. We strive to bring our readers the most current and reliable information available.