What is jaundice?
Jaundice is a side effect of having too much bilirubin in your body. It can cause parts of your body to turn yellow, like your skin and the white part of your eyes. Bilirubin is an orange-yellow substance that is made when your body breaks down red blood cells. Your liver takes bilirubin out of your blood and changes it to “conjugated bilirubin.” This bilirubin goes through the bile duct and mixes with your stool to leave your body. Your bilirubin level can be checked with a blood test.
What causes jaundice?
Jaundice is often a symptom of liver disease. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to your liver can cause liver disease. Jaundice is caused when your body makes too much bilirubin or does not remove it. This can happen when your liver is damaged.
Jaundice can also be caused by some health problems. These include:
- Viral infections, such as hepatitis A, B, and C.
- Autoimmune disorders.
- Hereditary conditions.
- A block in the bile duct can stop bilirubin from leaving the liver. This can be caused by a tumor, gallstones, or swelling of the gallbladder.
- Hemolytic anemia, a health issue where too many red blood cells are being broken down making too much bilirubin for the liver to handle.
Jaundice can also be caused by some medicines such as acetaminophen.
What symptoms does jaundice cause?
You may not have any symptoms of jaundice. Symptoms depend on the causes. Symptoms of jaundice can include:
- Yellow or brownish-colored skin.
- Yellow coloring to the white part of your eyes.
- Dark-colored urine.
- Light-colored stools.
- Itchy skin.
- Loss of appetite or weight loss.
- You may also have abdominal (belly) pain, upset belly, throwing up, chills or fever.
How is jaundice treated?
The treatment for jaundice is to treat whatever is causing it. For example, if your bile duct is blocked and causing bilirubin to build up in your body, a stent may be used to open the block. You may need blood tests or imaging tests (radiology x-rays or scans) to see what is causing your jaundice. Your treatment will be specific to your health issue.
If you have very itchy skin, your provider can give you medicine to help with the itching.
When should you call your provider?
If you have any symptoms of jaundice, you should call your provider right away so they can figure out the cause.
Adult jaundice: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment & prevention. Cleveland Clinic. (2018, July 23). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15367-adult-jaundice
Tholey, D. (2023, January). Jaundice in adults - liver and gallbladder disorders. Merck Manuals Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/liver-and-gallbladder-disorders/manifestations-of-liver-disease/jaundice-in-adults
WebMD. (2023, September 27). Bilirubin Test: What You Need to Know. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/bilirubin-test