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:
Excess breakdown of red blood cells, which can occur in:
Certain forms of
Some infectious diseases like
A blockage in or near the liver that prevents the flow of bile, such as:
pancreatitisA tumor in the liver or bile ductPancreatic cancerCongenital defectsPregnancy
Liver damage caused by:
Viral hepatitisCirrhosisAlcoholic liver diseaseAdverse effects of certain medicines or environmental toxinsIn babies, insufficient amounts of a certain liver enzyme during the first two weeks of life
Inherited metabolic disorders, including
, Crigler-Nager, and Dubin-Johnson syndromes
Liver, Gallbladder, and Bile duct
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Factors that may increase your chances of getting jaundice are similar to risk factors for liver and gallbladder disorders. They may include:
Drinking too much
illicit drugsTaking medicines that may harm the liver
Being exposed to
hepatitis CBeing exposed to certain industrial chemicals
Jaundice may indicate another condition or disease. In addition to jaundice, you may experience other symptoms. Symptoms may include: FatigueItchingFever or chillsUnexplained weight loss
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: Blood testsUltrasoundCT scanCholangiographyERCP testLaparoscopy
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: Avoiding a substance, like alcohol or medication, that is causing the conditionAddressing the cause of anemiaTaking medication to treat infectious diseases
Relieving bile duct obstructions by:
Excising tumorsExtracting gallstonesRemoving the gallbladder
jaundice in newborns
is common and usually clears without treatment. If bilirubin levels rise above a certain level, the baby may receive
, which is treatment with a special ultraviolet light. In Gilbert syndrome, jaundice tends to clear without treatment.
If you are diagnosed with jaundice, follow your doctor's
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: Limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women.Be careful mixing alcohol with over-the-counter and prescription medication.Avoid exposure to industrial chemicals.Do not use illicit drugs.Do not share needles or nasal snorting equipment.Practice safe sex.
To decrease your risk of hepatitis A, get the
hepatitis A vaccine
To decrease your risk of hepatitis B, get the
hepatitis B vaccine
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 March 2014 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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