It’s Not Easy Being Yellow: Thoughts on Jaundice from Hep C
For me, jaundice was the symptom that sent me to the emergency room. There, they pronounced that I had hepatitis C. My family all gathered in the room. I looked a bit more tired than they did, but my skin was the one thing that stood out. I had a yellowish tint that blended with the now-yellow, whites of my eyes. It gave me an alien look. I felt different. Poisoned.
Feeling like Kermit The Frog: Jaundice from hepatitis C
Jaundice is caused when our liver is being attacked. In our case, it’s hepatitis C. "Juane" is the French word for yellow and actually sounds kind of fancy cool if you say it with a French accent: "zhawn". Anyway, jaundice is not so easy to track, and it can be different for different people. It’s serious, but it can be treated. So yeah, when we are jaundiced, it’s a lot like being Kermit The Frog.
Kermit was having a pity party and hating himself when he wrote the song "It's Not Easy Being Green". It was sort of like the period I went through after the diagnosis. I felt stigma from the medical staff at the hospital, and I was certainly different from all the people in my family.
What causes jaundice?
Our healthy body metabolizes food, and the liver breaks down red blood cells. The red blood cells, in turn, release hemoglobin, which is converted to bilirubin. The bilirubin travels to our liver to be diluted and stored in the gallbladder. Soon, it heads toward our intestines and eventually makes its way out of our system...
...That is, unless we have liver disease and dysfunction from hep C. Most of the time, jaundice is caused by too much bilirubin in our bloodstream.1 It’s an outward symptom of an inward problem. HCV replicates, or multiplies, in our liver. This creates inflammation, and that leads to a damaged liver. By the time you have yellow skin from hepatitis C, you may have already experienced other symptoms like fatigue, body and joint pain, bleeding varices, nausea, itching skin, dark urine, and brain fog.
So, what's next?
If you're experiencing these symptoms, your doctor may do a liver panel, which is a blood lab test that looks at specific functions of your gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. You might also get a CAT scan, MRI, or liver biopsy. There is not really a cure for jaundice from hepatitis C. The underlying cause, hep C, is what needs treatment.
While waiting for treatment, stop drinking alcohol, and don’t take any medications unless prescribed by your doctor. Those medications may include a diuretic to prevent or treat ascites. For example, lactulose may help with brain fog or hepatic encephalopathy.
No longer yellow, but still feeling different
Starting when I turned yellow and found out that it was from a virus destroying my liver, I knew that hep C made me different from others - it shaped the way I approach everything. Just like when Kermit The Frog had to accept being green, I had to accept that I had liver problems.
I’ve since been cured of hep C and am no longer yellow. Due to end stage cirrhosis, I went on to get liver cancer, and eventually, got a transplant. I’m still very, very different from people who have never had hepatitis C. The initial jaundice was just the first clue. No matter what your stage of liver disease, you probably also agree that it’s not easy being yellow: thoughts on jaundice.
Does reading hep C patient stories aid you in your journey?