Medical Definition of Icterus

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/12/2018

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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Reviewed on 12/12/2018