What is jaundice?
Jaundice is a yellow color to your skin and the whites of your eyes.
Jaundice is caused by a buildup of a substance called bilirubin
Bilirubin is a yellow substance your body makes when it breaks down old or damaged red blood cells. Your liver processes the bilirubin in order to remove it from your body. It removes the bilirubin by mixing it into bile, a digestive juice, and putting it into your intestines.
Jaundice can happen if something goes wrong in your liver or in the tubes that carry bile to the intestines. Bilirubin builds up in your body and makes you turn yellow.
If you have jaundice, see a doctor soon—jaundice can be a sign of a serious problem like liver damage
Hepatitis Acute Hepatitis Acute hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of your liver that comes on quickly and goes away quickly. Acute hepatitis sometimes becomes chronic hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis lasts a long time... read more from a virus is a common cause of jaundice, particularly in young and healthy people
Some people with jaundice itch all over—medicine may help relieve the itching
Jaundice by itself doesn't cause serious symptoms, but it can be a sign of other problems. Jaundice in newborns Jaundice in Newborns Jaundice is a yellow color of the skin and the whites of the eyes that's caused by the buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance your body makes when it breaks down... read more is different and can cause serious problems for babies.
What causes jaundice?
Jaundice can happen if:
Too many red blood cells break down at once
Your liver is damaged and can't process bilirubin properly
Something blocks your bile ducts (tubes that carry bile from your liver to your intestines)
Common causes of liver damage include hepatitis Acute Hepatitis Acute hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of your liver that comes on quickly and goes away quickly. Acute hepatitis sometimes becomes chronic hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis lasts a long time... read more , alcohol-related liver disease Alcohol-Related Liver Disease Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It has many important jobs: To make a liquid (bile) that helps your body digest fat To process nutrients... read more , and sometimes certain medicines.
Common causes of blocked bile ducts include gallstones Gallstones Gallstones are solid material that can form in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is the organ where your body stores bile. Bile is a digestive fluid that helps break down fats in food before... read more and tumors.
In older people, jaundice is usually caused by blocked bile ducts, and the blockage is more likely to be cancer. Doctors suspect cancer when older people with jaundice also have:
No abdominal pain
A lump in the belly
What are the symptoms of jaundice?
Yellow eyes (the part that's normally white)
Itching all over the body
Dark urine (pee) and light-colored stool (poop)
Some diseases that cause jaundice may also cause:
When should I see a doctor?
See a doctor as soon as possible if you have jaundice and these warning signs:
Severe belly pain and tenderness
Changes in mental function, such as tiredness, nervousness, or confusion
Blood in your stool (poop) or tarry, black stool
Throwing up blood
A tendency to bruise or bleed easily, sometimes resulting in a reddish purple rash of tiny dots or larger splotches
In older people, the warning signs may be milder or harder to recognize.
People with no warning signs who think they may have jaundice should see a doctor within a few days.
What will happen at my doctor visit?
Doctors will ask questions about your symptoms and health history and do a physical exam. The answers from your history and physical exam will help them figure out the cause of your jaundice. They will order tests if needed.
What tests will I need?
Doctors may do tests such as:
Blood tests to check your liver and see if the liver is damaged
Imaging tests such as ultrasound Ultrasonography Imaging tests of the liver, gallbladder, and biliary tract include ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography... read more , CT (computed tomography) scan Computed Tomography Imaging tests of the liver, gallbladder, and biliary tract include ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography... read more , or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) Magnetic Resonance Imaging Imaging tests of the liver, gallbladder, and biliary tract include ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography... read more
Sometimes, liver biopsy or laparoscopy depending on what's causing your liver problem
Sometimes, other blood tests to check for the problem causing your jaundice
With a liver biopsy, the doctor will put a needle in your right side to take out a sample of your liver to look at under a microscope. With laparoscopy, the doctor will make a small cut in your belly and put a thin viewing tube through the cut to look at your organs.
How do doctors treat jaundice?
Doctors will treat the underlying problem.
Itching usually slowly disappears as the liver improves. If itching is severe, your doctor can prescribe a medicine that may help.
If the cause is a blocked bile duct, a flexible viewing tube (endoscope) may be used to open it.