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Jaundice - Treating jaundice

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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There are many possible treatments for jaundice, depending on the underlying cause.

A general overview of the recommended treatment plans for each of the main types of jaundice is outlined below, including links to more detailed information.

Pre-hepatic jaundice

In treating pre-hepatic jaundice, the objective is to prevent the rapid breakdown of red blood cells that's causing bilirubin levels to build up in the blood.

In cases of infections, such as malaria, the use of medication to treat the underlying infection is usually recommended. For genetic blood disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia or thalassaemia, blood transfusions may be required to replace the red blood cells.

Gilbert's syndrome doesn't usually require treatment because the jaundice associated with the condition isn't particularly serious and doesn't pose a serious threat to health. 

Intra-hepatic jaundice

In cases of intra-hepatic jaundice, there's little that can be done to repair any liver damage, although the liver can often repair itself over time. The aim of treatment is therefore to prevent any further liver damage occurring.

For liver damage that's caused by infection, such as viral hepatitis or glandular fever, anti-viral medications may be used to help prevent further damage.

If the damage is caused by exposure to harmful substances such as alcohol or chemicals, avoiding any further exposure to the substance is recommended.

In severe cases of liver disease, a liver transplant is another possible option. However, only a small number of people are suitable candidates for a transplant and the availability of donated livers is limited.

See the following topics for more information:

Post-hepatic jaundice

In most cases of post-hepatic jaundice, surgery is recommended to unblock the bile duct system.

During surgery, it may also be necessary to remove:

  • the gallbladder
  • a section of the bile duct system
  • a section of the pancreas to prevent further blockages occurring

See the following topics for more information:

Medical Review: February 26, 2013
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