Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Differences Between Jaundice and Icterus

Jaundice vs Icterus

There have been many types of illnesses and health problems that plague the world these days, but sometimes what we hear about and know based on someone else’s experience is, unfortunately, what we tend to believe in. One such health problem is the yellowing of the skin. Some say it is a common enough occurrence for newly born babies, but what do we really know about jaundice? In fact, we sometimes hear jaundice and icterus used one over the other. This article aims to shed some light on both terms.

Jaundice is a common health problem, sometimes considered disease, even a sickness or an illness. We also hear that icterus is just as similar. To properly define and describe what jaundice and icterus are, we shall pose the most asked about question, ‘Are jaundice and icterus one and the same?’

Yes, jaundice and icterus are one and the same. Jaundice is also known as ‘icterus’, which comes from the Greek word ‘icteric’. Icteric is a term that describes the yellow pigmentation of the skin, the yellowing of the whites of the eyes, and other mucous membranes in the body. Jaundice is derived from the French word ‘jaune’, which means yellow.

This yellow discoloration is caused by carotenemia, and generally is considered a harmless condition. This condition, though, should not be assumed and thought of as jaundice. Carotenemia is characterized by the yellow pigmentation on the skin called ‘xanthoderma’. Some studies show that this is sometimes caused by excessive consumption of foods rich in carotene, like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, to name a few … and, as mentioned, harmless. Both carotenemia and jaundice may be attributed by similar characteristics, but only in appearance. Jaundice, on the other hand, needs medical attention, as this is caused by the accumulation of unconjugated bilirubin.

What makes the yellow discoloration jaundice or icterus?
The discoloration on the whites of the eyes and the skin.
The whites of the eyes that turn yellow are the first tissues that change color because of the increase of bilirubin levels. Another term for this discoloration of the whites of the eyes to yellow is ‘scleral icterus’.
The discoloration of the whites of the eyes can also be called ‘conjuctival icterus’.
There are three types of jaundice:
Pre-hepatic or Hemolytic = occurring prior to the liver
Hepatic or Hepatocellular = occurring within the liver
Post-hepatic or Cholestatic = occurring after the conjugation of the bilirubin in the liver

There is another type of jaundice that is considered normal, that is, neonatal jaundice. This is quite common to newly born infants around the second day after birth. It would last until the eighth day after birth until the fourteenth, especially in premature births. Some say to treat this, babies should be exposed to early sunlight rays, just as soon as the sun would rise, but not more than fifteen minutes, as the rays of the sun would be a bit harsher on the skin of the infant. During these early minutes, the ‘ultra-violet B rays’ of the sun are advantageous, which promotes Vitamin D production.

It is best to remember that jaundice is not a disease. It is a sign of possible underlying problem within your body. Bilirubin is important because you need to be aware that if you have jaundice or icterus, there is a possibility that bilirubin might be culprit. Bilirubin is a waste product in your body, and it remains in your body after iron has been removed from hemoglobin. If there is an excess of bilirubin, it would leak to surrounding tissues and saturate these tissues with its yellow substance.


Jaundice or icterus entails medical attention due to the possible causes (e.g., accumulation of unconjugated bilirubin).
Jaundice or icterus refers to the yellowish pigmentation of the skin.
Jaundice or icterus is not a disease, but more of a sign leading to a medical condition.

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