Laurie Rosenblum, MPH
Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin, mucus membranes, and whites of the eyes.
Jaundice occurs when excess bilirubin builds up in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow-brown colored substance in bile. Bile is a liquid that carries waste products and bilirubin away from the liver. It also helps break down fats in the small intestine. It is formed during the body's normal process of breaking down red blood cells.
There are several reasons why too much bilirubin can build up in the blood. They include:
Factors that may increase your chance of jaundice are similar to risk factors for liver and gallbladder disorders. They may include:
Jaundice may indicate another condition or disease. In addition to jaundice, you may experience other symptoms. Symptoms may include:
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In order to make a diagnosis on what is causing jaundice, your doctor may recommend tests. Tests may include:
In most other types of jaundice, the specific condition causing it must be treated. There are many treatments that may be used for liver and gallbladder problems depending on the exact condition. They include:
jaundice in newborns
is common and usually clears without treatment. If bilirubin levels rise above a certain level, the baby may receive
phototherapy, which is treatment with a special ultraviolet light. In Gilbert syndrome, jaundice tends to clear without treatment.
Prevention depends on the disorder causing jaundice. You may not be able to prevent some of the disorders. However, you can take the steps below to decrease your chance of developing liver disease:
American Liver Foundation
Gastro—American Gastroenterological Association
Canadian Liver Foundation
Bilirubin. American Association for Clinical Chemistry Lab Tests Online website. Available at:
http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/bilirubin/tab/glance. Updated March 18, 2013. Accessed April 23, 2013.
Abnormal liver function tests—differential diagnosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 14, 2012. Accessed April 24, 2013.
Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 15, 2013. Accessed April 24, 2013.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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