Many hepatitis C patients, up to 20 to 40 per cent, have skin symptoms, including discolourations of the tongue. A tongue that is yellow in colour may be due to jaundice, a common complication of hepatitis C. Traditional Chinese medicine recognises yellow tongue as a hallmark of hepatitis and other liver conditions.
"The tongue tells the doctor a lot of what is going on with you, along with other tests," says family practitioner Patrick Whitfield. If you don’t have the expertise to diagnose yourself, however, it’s best to consult a professional if you notice a change in this part of your body.
The yellow colour of your tongue may be a sign of another condition not related to hepatitis C, such as black hairy tongue or geographic tongue. Ask your doctor for help in determining the cause of your yellow tongue.
Jaundice and Hepatitis C
A yellow tongue can occur in jaundice. This colouration is usually more obvious under the tongue, says Dr. Whitfield, where the blood vessels are most prevalent.
Jaundice is due to the build-up of bilirubin, a byproduct of red blood cell recycling, in the blood. The liver normally removes bilirubin from the body, but as liver function is compromised in hepatitis C, bilirubin can accumulate in your bloodstream. Bile pigments can also accumulate in your blood when your liver is inflamed, giving your skin a yellow appearance.
Jaundice may be a side effect of acute hepatitis C, or of liver failure or cirrhosis that can sometimes develop in a case of chronic hepatitis C. To treat either type of hepatitis C-related jaundice, the underlying hepatitis must be treated. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, this is often done with a combination of ribavarin, an antiviral medication, and alpha interferon, a drug that affects the immune system.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medical practitioners look for a yellow tongue colouration to diagnose a wide range of liver problems, including hepatitis C. According to Subhuti Dharmananda, the director of the Institute for Traditional Medicine, Chinese herbal therapies are highly effective in combating symptoms of hepatitis C. Dharmananda’s article “Hepatitis C: Recent Treatment Strategies” reviews studies published in Chinese medical journals in 1994, 1995 and 1998 that found that decoctions of herbs including hoelen, lobelia, oldenlandia, astralagus, salvia, bupleurum, sedum, red peony and others alleviated yellow-coated tongue and other symptoms in hepatitis C sufferers.
Some practitioners of Western medicine now incorporate traditional Chinese treatments in their practice and have reported positive effects of herbal therapies in hepatitis C patients, says Dharmananda. The most frequently used herbs are astragalus, bupleurum, forsythia, gardenia, oldenlandia, tang-kuei and red peony. Decoctions of these herbs may be given in combination with interferon therapy.
Herbs can interfere with prescription medications. Check with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements.