What Is Hemolytic Jaundice?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 May 2019
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Hemolytic jaundice is a type of jaundice. Also called hematogenous jaundice, it is one of the most common types of jaundice that occurs. It occurs when red blood cells break down. This breakdown causes an increase in a byproduct called bilirubin. The bilirubin is a yellow color that results in the yellow tinting of the skin and whites of the eyes, which is the most visible symptom.

Jaundice is a type of liver disease. Hemolytic jaundice is one of the three types of jaundice that occurs and the most common. The liver contains a chemical liquid called bile that aids in digestion. Red blood cells break down, creating bilirubin during this process. The bilirubin enters the liver in high concentrations and winds up getting distributed through the body, creating the yellow appearance.

There are several causes of this condition. Infections that result in the destruction of red blood cells are one cause. Conditions such as autoimmune disorders and sickle cell anemia are also causes that affect red blood cells. This type of jaundice can occur as a result of excessive amounts of acetaminophen or other drugs that destroy red blood cells and affect liver function.


Symptoms of hemolytic jaundice include yellow-tinted skin or eyes, brown or dark yellow urine, and swelling of the stomach or legs. Nausea, fever, and weakness are also common symptoms. Many patients may experience additional symptoms, such as headaches, appetite loss, and mild confusion. The symptoms will vary based on how much bilirubin is being distributed and the length of time. Infants may also present with lethargy and seizure activity.

In addition to a physical examination, diagnosing hemolytic jaundice is done through testing. Blood samples are used to determine how much bilirubin is present. These tests can also be used to check liver function and red blood cell counts.

Hemolytic jaundice can be life threatening if left untreated. Liver and brain damage can occur. Cirrhosis of the liver can occur as a result of continually high bilirubin levels. It is also possible to develop a severe infection called sepsis. In many cases, this type of jaundice can cause liver failure, which can lead to death.

This type of jaundice has a few treatment options. If other conditions are the cause, these conditions must be treated. Phototherapy uses light to disintegrate bilirubin and the yellow coloring. In some cases, blood transfusions may be necessary to replace depleted red blood cells in the blood.


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