When you get a bruise, you notice that your skin would undergo series of color changes as it heals. When you see it turn into yellow, that's bilirubin that you're seeing. This yellow pigment is found in the bile produced by the liver. It is a compound produced when the hemoglobin breaks down from the red blood cells. It circulates in the blood before it is flushed out in the stool. When there's excessive bilirubin in the body, jaundice may develop. It causes the skin, eyes, and mucus membranes inside the mouth to turn yellow.
Jaundice usually occurs in babies and children but it also affects adults. It can be caused by numerous factors including obstruction of the bile duct due to gallstone or tumor, insufficient flow of blood to the liver, overloaded or damaged liver, or excessive red blood cells that the liver cannot handle. It can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as hepatitis, biliary stricture, cirrhosis, pancreatic cancer, bilirubin-related congenital disorders, and malaria.
Before you are diagnosed with jaundice, a doctor will perform a physical examination. Since yellowish tone on the skin can indicate numerous other causes, the doctor will make use of:
- serum bilirubin, a test that measures the amount of bilirubin in the blood
- blood count, which provides information on red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets
- prothrombin time, blood test that measures the blood's ability to form clots
- abdominal ultrasound, a sonogram of the liver that shows if the liver is swollen or abnormal
- liver biopsy, which takes a sample of the liver tissue for further analysis in a laboratory.
Since jaundice is not actually a disease but a symptom of a particular disorder, treatment depends on the cause. If it is caused by obstruction of tumor or gallstones, removing these will be the main recourse for treatment. If the cause is liver damage, liver transplant may be in order. However, for problems like hepatitis or cirrhosis, which are chronic and lifelong, jaundice may be permanent.
Liver care is the number one preventive measure for jaundice. Excessive consumption of alcohol is the leading cause of liver damage as well as other jaundice-causing diseases like cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and alcoholic hepatitis. Limit intake of alcohol. If you are suffering from alcohol addiction, consult your doctor to find out ways on how to curb this problem before it's too late.
It's also important to practice precaution when traveling abroad, especially if you're going to places where there's malaria. Getting immunizations not only for malaria but also hepatitis A and B will significantly reduce the risk of developing diseases that cause jaundice.
In addition to this, do not consume foods that come from unhygienic sources, as these may be tainted with hepatitis virus.
Finally, practice safe sex, abstinence or monogamy. Unprotected sex may transmit hepatitis B.
Jaundice is not a serious medical condition in itself. What's terrifying is the possibility of having an underlying disease that causes the skin to turn yellow. If you see that your skin is more yellow than normal, don't wait long to see your doctor.