Jaundice ( Fr. jaunisse, from jaune, yellow), a morbid affection known by the yellowness of the eyes, skin, and urine, the color of the skin sometimes becoming yellowish green or brown, the stools being usually whitish, and the course of the bile obstructed. Epidemics of jaundice have been observed, especially during and after military campaigns, during sieges, etc.; and the disease is sometimes endemic, as in damp localities exposed to high temperatures. The attack is usually preceded by symptoms of disorder of the liver and digestive organs, such as loss of appetite, irregular bowels or constipation, colic pains, nausea, headache, languor; uneasiness in the region of the stomach and liver; thirst, unpleasant taste in the mouth, tongue loaded at the base; feeling of sinking, etc. Sooner or later the yellowness of surface appears; sometimes this is the first symptom, and it usually takes in order the eyes, the face, neck, chest, and then the whole body. At first a light yellow, it deepens to a golden or orange hue, sometimes greenish. The color may appear in parts of the surface only, in a palsied side, the face, or a single eye; or while yellow in some parts, it may be green or almost black in others, constituting what is known as the black jaundice.
The yellow tinge of visible objects, showing that the coloring matter has diffused itself through the humors of the eye, undoubtedly occurs, but is somewhat rare. The perspiration is yellowish. Fever, with quick or hard and full pulse, appears in cases of active congestion or inflammation of the liver; in others the pulse may be natural or irregular. From the time of the appearance of the yellow hue, however, many of the preliminary symptoms may diminish. The attack is often sudden; when following violent emotion, almost instantaneous. The course and duration are various, the disease disappearing or proving fatal as early as the fourth day, or lasting for months or years. The darker forms are most rapid and oftenest fatal. Favorable crises occur in the form of bilious diarrhoea, profuse perspiration, haemorrhage, or menorrhagia; or improvement begins more quietly, the color fading from the surface in the reverse order of its appearance. Jaundice, properly speaking, can hardly be called a disease. It is rather a symptom, the yellow color of the skin and excretions depending simply upon the retention in the circulation of the yellow coloring matter of the bile. Hence it may be a very serious or a trifling affection, according to the nature of the causes which give rise to it.
When the coloring matter of the bile alone is retained in the circulation or reabsorbed from the liver, but little injury results, and a patient deeply tinged with the color of jaundice from this cause may still be able to walk about and attend to his ordinary business without much discomfort. On the other hand, when all the ingredients of the bile, or the substances from which they are formed, accumulate in the circulation owing to a suspension of the physiological action of the liver or intestines, the disease becomes one of great gravity, and is usually fatal if not relieved within a period of about ten days. Death is generally preceded in these cases, as in those of poisoning by urea from suspended action of the kidneys, by signs of disorder in the nervous system, and at last by a condition of coma or profound insensibility. Attacks of jaundice belonging to the former class often pass off without any other treatment than a mild laxative and judicious regimen; those of the second class often pass on to a fatal termination notwithstanding the use of the most active remedies.