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Managing Obstructive Jaundice

The Management of Obstructive Jaundice

Obstructive jaundice is a particular type of jaundice and occurs when the essential flow of bile to the intestine is blocked and remains in the bloodstream. This might be due to blocked bile ducts caused by gallstones, or tumours of the bile duct which can block the area where the bile duct meets the duodenum. These may be cancerous.

Pancreatic cancer can also be a cause of blockages as it often occurs near to the ampulla of Vater, the tube which joins the pancreas gland to the duodenum.

Other conditions that can cause obstructive jaundice include those that cause pressure on the bile duct such as swelling of lymph glands, scar tissue (from previous infections or surgery), or a cyst, possibly of the pancreas.


Symptoms of obstructive jaundice include yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes; paler stools and darker urine; and intense itching. Other symptoms vary, depending on the underlying cause of the obstruction although you may also feel tired.


As obstructive jaundice is a serious condition linked to high mortality rates early diagnosis is important. If it is caught early enough a curative operation to remove the blockage is possible, otherwise only palliative treatments that ease the symptoms and which may prolong life are available.

Obstructive jaundice can be diagnosed through various tests including blood tests to examine the level of bilirubin, as well as ultrasound of the liver and bile ducts to find out the exact cause of the obstruction is. CT scans are also used to help examine what is causing the blockage.


Treatment depends on what is causing the obstruction; your doctor will advise you about your treatment options. However, these might include surgical resection; ERCP or a procedure known as Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography (PTC) with percutaneous biliary drainage. Essentially this allows the drainage of bile that has built up in the liver.