Slightly yellow skin. Fatigue. Just feeling a bit under the weather. Why was I feeling this way? I was a healthy young soldier, just 21 years old. It was time to use my experience in the medical lab to figure out what was wrong. Why did I have jaundice and what was I going to do?
Being a medical laboratory specialist, I knew this was something I should get checked out. I decided to talk to one of the Physician’s Assistants at my clinic and get my blood drawn. As I processed my sample, it looked abnormal. The serum, or liquid part of my blood, was slightly orange or amber. It should have been a clear, light yellow. When the results came back, they showed that I indeed had jaundice. My bilirubin was 2.1mg/dL. A normal result should have been about 0.8mg/dL.
Bilirubin is a waste product of old red blood cells. The body gets rid of these old cells through the liver, eventually leaving the body through urine or stool. According to the NIH, jaundice occurs when either more cells are broken down than normal, or when the exit pathway is blocked, as with a blocked bile duct. Newborn babies suffer from jaundice when the immature liver cannot efficiently dispose of the bilirubin.
My abnormal finding led to more extensive testing. After more blood work, it was shown that I was in the recovering stages of acute Hepatitis B. I was surprised, having never felt seriously ill around that time. Over the next few months, I made a complete recovery.
Life After Jaundice
Over the years, I saw patients who did not fare so well. Their bilirubin was so elevated that they were pumpkin colored. Whether it was from a viral hepatitis like mine, or liver failure due to alcoholism, some of them did not survive.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. My bout with jaundice left me with no lasting effects. My skin has been a healthy color since it resolved. The fatigue only happens with good reason. Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is not problematic. At my physicals, my blood is a normal color and my lab results are all healthy.
Don’t hesitate to seek the advice of your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of jaundice. Yellowing of the eyes or skin and accompanying fatigue are telltale signs. After diagnosis, treatment and monitoring bilirubin with lab tests help you make a return to health.
“Bilirubin ” – Encyclopedia Brittanica
“Bilirubin – Blood ” – National Institutes of Health
“Tests and Procedures: Bilirubin Test ” – Mayo Clinic