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What is jaundice? What are the different types of jaundice?

What is jaundice?

Jaundice is a serious medical condition that makes your skin and the whites of your eyes look yellowish. This happens when too much bilirubin builds up in your blood.

Bilirubin is a yellowish pigment created as hemoglobin — a component of red blood cells — is broken down.

Normally, bilirubin is delivered from the bloodstream into your liver. Then, it passes through tubes called bile ducts. These ducts carry a substance called bile into your small intestine. Eventually, bilirubin is passed out of your body through urine or stool.

What are the different types of jaundice?

Person checking their eye for jaundice
Lucy Lambriex/Getty Images

Types of jaundice are categorized by where they happen within the liver’s process of taking in and filtering out bilirubin. They includeTrusted Source:

  • Pre-hepatic jaundice: Health conditions that affect the blood’s rate of breaking down blood cells cause bilirubin to overflow into bodily tissues. It occurs before the blood reaches the liver.
  • Hepatic jaundice: Hepatic jaundice happens when your liver tissue becomes less effective at filtering out bilirubin from your blood.
  • Post-hepatic jaundice: This type of jaundice happens when bilirubin filtered from the blood can’t drain properly into the bile ducts or digestive tract to be passed out of the body. It occurs after bilirubin is filtered out in the liver and occurs because of a blockage.

All about pre-hepatic jaundice

Pre-hepatic jaundice is caused by conditions that raise your blood’s rate of hemolysis. This is the process through which red blood cells are broken down, converting hemoglobin to bilirubin.

Because the liver can only process so much bilirubin at once, bilirubin overflows into bodily tissues, resulting in jaundice.

Causes of pre-hepatic jaundice

Having certain conditions that affect how your red blood cells are broken down may lead to jaundice.

Common causes of pre-hepatic jaundice includeTrusted Source:

  • malaria, a blood infection caused by a parasite
  • sickle cell anemia, a genetic condition in which red blood cells become crescent-shaped rather than the typical disc shape
  • spherocytosis, a genetic condition of the red blood cell membrane that causes them to be sphere-shaped rather than disc-shaped
  • thalassemia, a genetic condition that causes your body to make an irregular type of hemoglobin that limits the number of healthy red blood cells in your bloodstream

Symptoms of pre-hepatic jaundice

You may have symptoms in addition to the yellowing skin and eyes associated with jaundice.

Common symptoms of pre-hepatic jaundice include:

  • abdominal pain
  • fever, including chills or cold sweats
  • abnormal weight loss
  • feeling itchy
  • dark urine or pale stool

Pre-hepatic jaundice risk factors

Some factors may increase your risk for developing for this type of jaundice. They may include:

  • drug use
  • having a family member with a blood disorder
  • traveling to regions where malaria is endemic

Diagnosis of pre-hepatic jaundice

To diagnose pre-hepatic jaundice, a doctor will likely order tests to determine your liver function and measure bilirubin.

A doctor may diagnose you with pre-hepatic jaundice if you have jaundice and there aren’t any issues with bilirubin being processed by your liver or within the gallbladder and biliary ducts.

Treatment for pre-hepatic jaundice

Treatment for this type of jaundice involves treating the condition that is causing it. The treatment options will vary by condition.

Treatment for pre-hepatic jaundice may include:

For malaria:

  • medications to help destroy the parasite and prevent parasites from reinfecting your liver again

For sickle cell anemia:

  • blood transfusions from a healthy donor
  • rehydrating with intravenous (IV) fluid
  • medications for any infections that can cause a sickle cell crisis

For spherocytosis:

  • folic acid supplements
  • blood transfusions for anemia
  • spleen removal surgery to help increase red blood cell life and lower the chance of gallstones

For thalassemia:

  • blood transfusions
  • bone marrow transplants
  • spleen or gallbladder removal surgery

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