Medical Definition of Icterus

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Icterus: Jaundice. At least one medical dictionary defines icterus as the presence of jaundice seen in the sclera of the eye. This is incorrect. Icterus is synonymous with jaundice. They are one and the same thing.

Curiously, both icterus and jaundice come from the Greek. Icterus is a Latinized (-us) form of the Greek word "ikteros" and to the ancient Greeks signified both "jaundice" and "a yellow bird." It was thought that jaundice could be cured if the patient gazed at the bird. The disease would transmigrate from the jaundiced patient to the hapless bird (JAMA 184: 615, 1963).

For related information, see Jaundice.

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