One of the most dramatically visible ailments among human beings is jaundice. The disease is often revealed to others before the patient himself comes to know about it. And yet, in spite of being one of the easiest diseases to detect, there is very little awareness and understanding about jaundice among the general public. Dr P Bhavani Prasad Raju, senior consultant gastroentrologist, CARE Hospitals, speaks to Express to provide a clearer picture.
What is the most important thing about jaundice that people must know about?
The most important thing to know about jaundice is to know that it is a manifestation of an underlying disease than the disease itself. In the body the elixir of life, ie, oxygen is carried by a protein in the redblood cells (RBC) called haemoglobin (Hb). When the old RBCs die at the end of their life cycle (which is generally 120 days), the Hb is broken down in spleen into waste products called Bilirubin and Bilivirdin which are yellow coloured substances. The accumulation of these waste products in the body causes what is commonly known as jaundice.
How does Jaundice most commonly occur?
Of all the causes, damage to liver is the most common cause of manifestation of jaundice. Damage to liver can occur because of various reasons like viral infections, alcohol, birth defects, trauma and tumours. Viral infections of Liver are commonly due to Hepatitis A,B,C,D or E infections. Of these viruses, Hepatitis A and E spread by infected water or food from one person to others. These are generally self-limiting and generally do not cause serious or permanent liver damage in majority of patients. In contrast to these, Hepatitis B and C viruses spread from person to person by contact of body fluids like saliva, semen, blood. These viruses are capable of causing severe and permanent damage to liver.
What is the diagnosis for jaundice?
Diagnosing jaundice is generally easy as it is self-evident. But what is more important and difficult is to know the cause of jaundice. Most important thing to know here is manifestation of jaundice can be due to a myriad of causes from entities which are self-limiting to those which are life-threatening. Usually a simple blood test called liver function test (LFT) and an ultrasound scan (USG ) of abdomen under the supervision of qualified physician can diagnose the cause of liver damage and jaundice in most of the cases. Special tests like CT scan, MRI and endoscopic tests may be required in some cases. We commonly see people going for quack medication with out knowing the root cause of jaundice and coming to us with advanced stages of disease.
What are the precautions that need to be taken?
The saying that prevention is better than cure aptly applies to jaundice. Avoiding alcohol is the most important preventive step in preventing liver damage. Proper personal hygiene and washing practices and consumption of hygienically prepared food, prevents spread of Hepatitis A and E viruses from person to person. Consuming boiled and cooled water is the safest and most economical way of preventing Hepatitis A and E virus spread. Vaccine is also available for prevention of Hepatitis A infection.