What is liver jaundice? The answer is in your eyes!
Now please be aware this answer comes from my personal experience as I am not a medical expert. However, because I was being asked specific questions on my blog I decided to put some answers together.
So is jaundice an actual problem itself or just a symptom? What do you say to people who point it out to you? What do you say to people who say you are an alcoholic or “jaundice well that it only happens to babies doesn’t” ?
These are genuine questions you get all the time, including what is liver jaundice?
Is liver jaundice an actual thing ?
Well it certainly is as I know from firsthand suffering from advanced liver disease. Jaundice is caused by the build-up in your body of a yellow substance called bilirubin. This can cause a major yellowing of the skin and I will talk about it later but this can be confused with a tan.
Please don’t make the same mistake that I did.
You also get extreme yellowing of the eyes. If you had pulled my eyelids back and why would you, it was extremely yellow even though the complete whites of my eyes were not so yellow. Maybe with hindsight people said they were.
I remember my partner mentioning it over a pizza, as you do and I dismissed it as tiredness! I carried on just eating my pizza. With jaundice, you can sometimes ignore what you don’t want to hear about or maybe that is just a health man thing!
So yellow skin and eyes. Anything else that may be apparent or go with it. Well maybe including sweats, tiredness, swollen ankles, slight itching on the chest and a very expanded stomach something known as ascites which can lead to serious internal bleeding.
There are lots of possible reasons for jaundice and some of them are very serious.
A bilirubin test measures the amount of bilirubin in your blood. It’s used to help find the cause of health conditions like jaundice, anemia, and liver disease.
Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that occurs normally when part of your red blood cells break down. Your liver takes the bilirubin from your blood and changes its chemical make-up so that most of it is passed through your toilet habits.
If your bilirubin levels are higher than normal, it’s a sign that either your red blood cells are breaking down at an unusual rate or that your liver isn’t breaking down waste properly and clearing the bilirubin from your blood. Thus, the yellow skin and eyes.
Another option is that there is a problem somewhere along the pathway that gets the bilirubin out of your liver and into your poo.
What causes jaundice ?
Many things can jaundice, I have researched so much since starting this blog and getting liver disease. I have learned that jaundice can caused by gallstones, alcoholic liver disease, pancreatitis hepatitis, sickle cell disease and many more. Its like a big sales offer!
People tend to try to put people into certain camps, mainly drinking, if you show signs of jaundice and that may be true but very unhelpful.
I said to someone. Yes you could be right but it could also mean you have anemia, a bad reaction to drugs, you might be just a social drinker like I was ( people were shocked at this because very often they would drink more than me!) and yet I still developed cirrhosis of the liver which can limit your life and can mean the end of your life unless drastic steps are taken.
Sometimes it is not just the yellow color of your skin or eyes that you notice so you might have a very dark urine for example. I did at times.
I thought I was just dehydrated. I was certainly vomiting or certainly gagging and thought this is just acid. My stomach had swollen so badly that my belly button looked very odd indeed. It might be similar to your experience but everyone is different.
Will they test Bilirubin?
Yes hopefully otherwise change hospital ! A bilirubin test does what it says on the tin and it’s very simple although my arms became very black and blue. My blood test measured total bilirubin in my system.
I discovered there is two levels so two different types of bilirubin: unconjugated and conjugated although this was never really discussed with me although to be honest I was so focused on living I just did what I was told.
- Unconjugated bilirubin. Now remember the yellow substance I talked about so this is the red blood cell breakdown. It has one path from the blood to the liver.
- Conjugated bilirubin. So the bilirubin has got to its destination of the liver and changes chemically. Once that is done it goes off quite happily to your intestines before being removed through your toilet habits.
If you are an adult you are looking at normal bilirubin levels of up to 1.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood. Technically I know this is not my strong point but I can understand big numbers and small numbers.
Anything over this is considered high. One of my tests was at 2.9! Not good on any level which is why I was rushed into the hospital straight away. My last test was 0.5 which I was rather pleased with myself. It’s the little things!
What was interesting though I got my blood checked every day but they also checked my eyes, skin and stomach. I guess you cannot beat the basics!
As a patient however it gave me something to look at, measure and set some goals even if I did not really understand the figures!
What are the causes of Jaundice, is it just liver issues?
- Anemia – I got tested for this but after a few low readings it proved negative.
- Cirrhosis – Which is what I have!
- Some people may get bad reaction to a blood transfusion
- Gilbert syndrome is not something I had never heard of but I met a guy in outpatients who filled me in. This is often inherited and there is a lack of deficiencies enzyme wise so the breakdown of bilirubin is disrupted.
- Viral hepatitis
- In some people it can be caused by a reaction to drugs.
- Alcoholic liver disease
Now of course not all are equal but all you need you to do is get medical advice and help!
The useful thing of course from a liver point of view is that when people say it is linked to just being an alcoholic or a heavy drinking you can correct them if you can be bothered.
Liver disease as I will talk about comes with its unfair share of discrimination.
With liver disease jaundice can happen at an advanced level, it sounds like some kind of qualification!
However, it can definitely happen with cirrhosis.
Remember the doctor will need to treat the cause not the jaundice itself but I did leave the hospital looking more like myself and I now have no symptoms of jaundice. However, it varies for everyone. The key factor for me was knocking alcohol on the head.
Is jaundice dangerous? Yes it can be at various different levels so go and get in checked out.
What do you say if someone says “you look yellow”?
Quick learning for me was that some people will mention jaundice, most however say “you look yellow” in my experience and then you interpret that in your own way! Not a good idea.
Now in my early stage of live disease I had just come back from the lovely Spanish Island of Gran Canaria and I was looking very well ( or so I thought) and very tanned. Now I kid you not I had two main responses. Let’s deal with them separately.
The first option was people who said I looked really good and that the weather in Spain was so amazing that I thought nothing of it. However, there were those who did not and told me I did not look well at all.
What is interesting is pay attention to people who don’t see you as often, as in my experience they noticed it more:
- The taxi driver ( who later told me he thought I was going to die and wish he has said something earlier)
- The close friend who you have not seen for years but you meet them at a birthday party and they mention it, maybe to others not you. People are so looking for what they want to hear that they miss what they don’t want to hear. It’s like those people who ask a question but only want the answer they want to hear. Never good!
- The colleague who has not seen you for months. What she said was told to me next to my amazing personal assistant who suddenly said “oh yes you don’t”. The closest to you may not notice as quickly.
Pay attention to the feedback and remember they are saying it generally out of concern!
Now it’s not my area of expertise but people will sometimes ask you why their baby boy or girl has jaundice and this is a completely different area and very normal sometimes in newborn children. I just explain it’s different and they seem happy with that with a direction about where to get more information.
I did have one very funny experience, a lady just randomly pulled up a chair when I was in hospital and said “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” At this point I had been asked every question under the sun from my sexuality to alcohol, food consumption, drug use and had more needles put in me that I ever imagined so nothing was off bounds!
She said “Is this a liver ward and is that the reason everyone on it looks yellow”.
After I explained jaundice and that not everyone was liver patient she looked at me and said “ you have been very helpful”.
She put her chair away and I have never seen her seen. She was lovely though.
What do you say if people say you are an alcoholic?
Remember it is their issue.
I knew loads of people who drank more than me but it did not stop the whispers even from those who did drink loads. I was a wine drinker with lunch on the weekend and a drink after work so it can happen to anyone. Who cares what they think anyway!
I am always honest and stated what happened to me in that I was an everyday social drinker and got seriously ill. To be honest I nearly died so what people who judge me think is irrelevant to me. OK it hurts a bit!
At the end of the day some people are curious, some just pure mean but I have always found being upfront takes the wind out of what they say.
If you are an alcoholic, so what, so are most of the population who drink technically so labels are unhelpful. If you have been on a journey and come through, celebrate it!
So people do presume that liver issues has anything and everything to do with drink. I have a close friend whose wife needed an urgent transplant and she does not drink at all.
There are also people who have got hepatitis through various ways including a haircut believe it or not and guy was in his 70’s! So you have understood that when you say you have liver disease and of course the choice is up to you you may get discriminated against. Sad but we can work on that together.
Now we can take two options, avoid or raise awareness and I chose the second as awareness needs to be raised. And to be honest people love stories so me telling mine to others can help people now and others who may come along after well after us.
What do you say if you choose a non-alcoholic over an alcoholic beer and the barman says what the point? Tell them the truth and they will wish they never asked! You can read my review of some of my favorite alcohol free beers here. I haven’t drunk in 18 months and have not missed it once.
However, I do like a safe option when I am out and about but if you think this may lead you to go back on alcohol please avoid it, your liver won’t survive it.
Where can I get help?
Firstly don’t do what I did, I don’t like to make a fuss so I waited a few days for a doctor’s appointment and casually told her what was wrong.
As someone who is never ill and otherwise very healthy, her look was a picture. She was on that phone to casualty before I had a chance to say my usual “and how are you? “ Ridiculous really!
If you have jaundice symptoms, get help now!
The liver trust in the UK can help and they also have a lot of international charities listed as well that will listen. Many employ experts in this area.
The British Liver Trust has experts on hand and also a forum with people living with liver disease with all sorts of causes, carers and people just interested. They will also help with what is liver jaundice?
Also, my early teacher and coach has a great programme for addiction, clearly not for very serious addiction but I think it really makes you think. You can check out his programme on the banner below and I highly recommend it. It has lots of different options listed.
Finally, please do message me below on your thoughts on: what is liver jaundice?
I would love to hear your questions, thoughts and comments as it’s great for the community here. I always respond to every comment and I really enjoy reading and learning from them.
Again I wrote this from a personal perspective and not a medical expert one but I do believe patients need to share their stories. Leave your message below! I always respond.