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Jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the skin, mucous membrane and of the white of the eyes caused by elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia). The term jaundice is derived from the French word jaune, which means yellow. Jaundice is not a disease per se, but rather a visible sign of an underlying disease process. Jaundice is typically seen when the level of bilirubin in the blood exceeds 2.5-3 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).
The presence of jaundice requires a comprehensive medical evaluation to determine its cause. Initially, your health care professional will take a detailed history of your illness and perform a physical exam, which can sometimes determine the cause of the jaundice. Initial blood testing will also be undertaken, with special attention being given to your liver function tests, complete blood count (CBC), electrolyte panel and lipase levels. Blood testing for exposure to hepatitis may also be ordered. Additional blood testing may be ordered based on the initial results. A urinalysis will likely also be ordered.Depending on the results of initial blood tests, further studies may be needed to help diagnose the underlying disease process. In certain cases, imaging studies will need to be obtained in order to evaluate for any abnormalities generally of the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.These imaging studies may include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan).Occasionally, individuals will need further invasive testing to determine th cause of the jaundice. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) or a liver biopsy can be done.
Complications vary with the underlying cause leading to jaundice. Certain individuals will not suffer any long-term after effects and will have a full recovery, while for others the appearance of jaundice will be the first indication of a life-threatening condition. A few of the potential complications include:
1. Electrolyte abnormalities
5. Chronic hepatitis
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