What Are the Different Types of Jaundice?

An abdominal ultrasound can help evaluate the cause of jaundice.
A doctor can run blood and urine tests to detect some types of jaundice.
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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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There are many types of jaundice, but the three primary types are the pre-hepatic, hepatic, and post hepatic. These types do not indicate stages and do not mean that the succeeding type is more dangerous than the previous one, but only indicates when the jaundice has occurred: before, after, or while the liver is converting insoluble bilirubin to a soluble one. Aside from these types of jaundice, another common type is the physiological or neonatal jaundice, which is often experienced by newborn infants since their system is still immature and cannot eliminate bilirubin as well as it should. It should be noted that these three types of jaundice are not to be treated as diseases but rather as symptoms that point to another disease, and finding out the specific type of jaundice can help diagnose a patient’s condition more accurately.

In general, jaundice is a condition or a description of how a patient’s skin and eyes become yellowish due to the excessive amount of bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin is actually one of the many byproducts of the body’s activities, and under normal conditions, the liver regularly removes the bilirubin from the blood using the bile, another bodily fluid that the liver produces. If laboratory tests determine that a patient’s blood contains more than 1 mg/dL (more than 17µmol/L), the patient is said to have jaundice.

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The pre-hepatic or hemolytic type of jaundice often involves the red blood cells and their increased rate of breakdown or hemolysis. When too many red blood cells are dying or when replacement of old red blood cells with new ones is unbalanced, bilirubin is produced in excessive quantities and the liver cannot function as effectively. As a result, the bilirubin remains in the bloodstream and causes jaundice. Pre-hepatic types of jaundice are often caused by genetic disorders like sickle-cell anemia, parasitic illnesses like malaria, or intake of certain drugs.

Jaundice categorized as hepatic often occurs while the liver is presently processing the bilirubin. In this case, the liver cells are impaired or the liver is experiencing an inflammation, affecting the way it functions. The liver then cannot process the bilirubin, which increases in number and results in jaundice. Among the types of jaundice, the hepatic is most likely to be caused by hepatitis, along with excessive alcohol intake and certain medications. In some cases, hepatic jaundice can also be a result of cirrhosis, in which the liver has an internal scarring that can inhibit its function.

In the post-hepatic type of jaundice, the bilirubin is actually processed properly by the liver and becomes soluble, but cannot travel through the intestines due to a blockage. As a result, the bilirubin lingers in the liver and cannot be excreted. Blockages are often attributed to gallstones, sometimes to cysts or tumors located in the liver and also to pregnancy. These types of jaundice can be specifically determined through blood tests and obtaining urine and stool samples from the patient. For example, a patient with pre-hepatic jaundice will have abnormal blood results and dark-colored stools, high levels of liver enzymes will be found in hepatic jaundiced patients, while a post-hepatic jaundice is marked by dark urine.

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