Jaundice comes from the French word jaune, which means yellow is a yellowing of the skin, sclera and mucous membranes caused by increased levels of bilirubin in the human body.
Causes of Jaundice
When red blood die, the heme in their hemoglobin is converted to bilirubin in the spleen and in the kupffer cells in the liver. The bilirubin is processed by the liver, enters bile and is eventually excreted through feces.
Consequently, there are three different classes of causes for jaundice. Pre-hepatic or hemolytic causes, where too many red blood cell are broken down, hepatic causes where the processing of bilirubin in the liver does not function correctly, and post-hepatic or extra hepatic causes, where the removal of bile is disturbed.
Pre-hepatic (or hemolytic) jaundice is caused by anything that causes an increased rate of hemolysis (breakdown of red blood cells). In tropical countries, malaria can cause jaundice in this manner. Certain genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency can lead to increase red cell lysis and therefore hemolytic jaundice. Defects in bilirubin metabolism also present as jaundice. Jaundice usually comes with high fevers.
Hepatic causes include acute hepatitis, hepatotoxicity and alcoholic liver disease whereby cell necrosis reduces the liver's ability to metabolize and excrete bilirubin leading to a build up in the blood. Less common causes include primary biliary cirrhosis, Gilbert's syndrome and metastatic carcinoma. Jaundice commonly seen in the newborn baby is another example of hepatic jaundice.