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INTRODUCTION

JAUNDICE

Definition

Yellow skin pigmentation caused by elevation in serum bilirubin level (also termed icterus); often more easily discernible in sclerae. Scleral icterus becomes clinically evident at a serum bilirubin level of ≥51 μmol/L (≥3 mg/dL); yellow skin discoloration also occurs with elevated serum carotene levels but without pigmentation of the sclerae.

Bilirubin Metabolism

Bilirubin is the major breakdown product of hemoglobin released from senescent erythrocytes. Initially, it is bound to albumin, transported into the liver, conjugated to a water-soluble form (glucuronide) by glucuronosyl transferase, excreted into the bile, and converted to urobilinogen in the colon. Urobilinogen is mostly excreted in the stool; a small portion is reabsorbed and excreted by the kidney. Bilirubin can be filtered by the kidney only in its conjugated form (measured as the “direct” fraction); thus, increased direct serum bilirubin level is associated with bilirubinuria. Increased bilirubin production and excretion (even without hyperbilirubinemia, as in hemolysis) produce elevated urinary urobilinogen levels.

Etiology

Hyperbilirubinemia occurs as a result of (1) overproduction; (2) impaired uptake, conjugation, or excretion of bilirubin; (3) regurgitation of unconjugated or conjugated bilirubin from damaged hepatocytes or bile ducts (Table 48-1).

TABLE 48-1CAUSES OF ISOLATED HYPERBILIRUBINEMIA

Evaluation

The initial steps in evaluating the pt with jaundice are to determine whether (1) hyperbilirubinemia is conjugated or unconjugated, and (2) other biochemical liver tests are abnormal (Figs. 48-1 and 48-2, Tables 48-2 and 48-3). Essential clinical examination includes history (especially duration of jaundice, pruritus, associated pain, risk factors for parenterally transmitted diseases, medications, ethanol use, travel history, surgery, pregnancy, presence of any accompanying symptoms), physical examination (hepatomegaly, tenderness over liver, palpable gallbladder, splenomegaly, gynecomastia, testicular atrophy, other stigmata of chronic liver disease), blood liver tests (see below), and complete blood count.

FIGURE 48-1

Evaluation of the pt with jaundice. ALT, alanine aminotransferase; AMA, antimitochondrial antibody; ANA, antinuclear antibody; AST, aspartate aminotransferase; CMV, cytomegalovirus; EBV, Epstein-Barr virus; LKM, liver-kidney microsomal antibody; MRCP, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography; SMA, smooth-muscle antibody; SPEP, serum protein electrophoresis.

FIGURE 48-2

Algorithm for evaluation of abnormal liver tests.

TABLE 48-2HEPATOCELLULAR ...

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