Jaundice - Prevention 

Preventing jaundice 

Because of the wide range of potential causes, it's not possible to prevent all cases of jaundice. However, you can take precautions to minimise your risk of developing the condition.

These precautions include:

  • ensuring that you stick to the recommended daily amount (RDA) for alcohol consumption
  • maintaining a healthy weight for your height and build
  • if appropriate, ensuring that you're vaccinated against hepatitis A or hepatitis B, which are more common in certain parts of the world – vaccination is usually only recommended depending on where in the world you're travelling 
  • minimising your risk of exposure to hepatitis C, as there's currently no vaccine for the condition – in England, the most effective way of preventing hepatitis C is by not injecting illegal drugs such as heroin, or making sure that you don't share drug injecting equipment if you do

More information about each precaution is provided below.

Alcohol

Giving up drinking alcohol altogether is the most effective way of reducing your risk of developing jaundice, particularly if you've been drinking for many years.

As a minimum preventative measure, stick to the recommended daily amounts for alcohol consumption. The recommended daily amounts are:

  • 3-4 units a day for men
  • 2-3 units a day for women

A unit of alcohol is approximately equal to half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.

Many experts would recommend that as well as sticking to the recommended daily amounts, you also spend two to three days a week not drinking any alcohol.

Visit your GP if you're finding it difficult to moderate your alcohol consumption. Counselling services and medication are available to help you reduce your alcohol intake.

See treatments for alcohol misuse and drinking and alcohol for more information and advice.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Obesity and the resulting damage it can sometimes cause to the liver (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) is an often overlooked cause of cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and jaundice. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is therefore an effective way of preventing jaundice.

In addition, a high-fat diet can increase your blood cholesterol level, which in turn will also raise your risk of developing gallstones.

The most successful weight loss programmes include at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week, eating smaller portions and only having healthy snacks in between meals. A gradual weight loss of around 0.5kg (1.1lbs) a week is usually recommended.

Read more about the treatment of obesity and losing weight safely.

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B

As both hepatitis A and hepatitis B are relatively uncommon conditions in England, vaccination is usually only recommended if you're travelling to parts of the world that are known to have high levels of both conditions. You may also be advised to have a vaccination if your job or lifestyle increases your risk of exposure to either type of virus.

For example, vaccination for hepatitis A is recommended for:

  • people who are travelling to places where the virus is common, such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, central and south America, the Far East and eastern Europe
  • people who work in laboratories
  • people who work with primates, such as monkeys and chimpanzees

Vaccination for hepatitis B is recommended for:

  • visitors to parts of the world where hepatitis B is widespread, such as southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands, such as Samoa or the Solomon Islands
  • those who regularly inject drugs
  • men who have sex with men
  • sex workers

Read more information and advice about preventing hepatitis A and preventing hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C

If you regularly inject drugs such as heroin, the best way to avoid getting hepatitis C is to not share any of your drug-injecting equipment with other users. This doesn't just apply to needles, but also to anything that could come into contact with other people's blood, such as:

  • mixing spoons
  • filters
  • water used to dissolve drugs
  • tourniquets (the belt that drug users sometimes tie around their arm to make their veins easier to inject)

As hepatitis C doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms for many years, many people may not realise that they're infected. It's therefore safer to assume that anyone may have the infection.

Even if you're not a drug user, it's important to take some commonsense precautions to minimise your exposure to other people's blood, for example by avoiding sharing any object that could be contaminated with blood, such as razors and toothbrushes.

There's less risk of developing hepatitis C by having sex with someone who is infected, but as a precaution it's recommended that you use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom.

It may also be possible to get hepatitis C by sharing banknotes or "snorting tubes" to snort drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamine. These types of drugs can irritate the lining of the nose, and small particles of contaminated blood could be passed on to the note or tube, which you could then inhale.

See Hepatitis C, get tested, get treated for more information and advice about hepatitis C.

Page last reviewed: 26/02/2013

Next review due: 26/02/2015

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Image of the liver

The risks of drinking too much

You don't have to be an alcoholic to risk damaging your health. Regularly drinking just above recommended levels can be harmful