Jaundice is a yellow color in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes. The yellow color comes from bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells. Jaundice is a sign of other diseases.
This article discusses the possible causes of jaundice in children and adults. Newborn jaundice occurs in very young infants.
Causes of jaundice
Jaundice is often a sign of a problem with the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas. Jaundice can occur when too much bilirubin builds up in the body. This may happen when:
- There are too many red blood cells dying or breaking down and going to the liver.
- The liver is overloaded or damaged.
- The bilirubin from the liver is unable to properly move into the digestive tract.
Conditions that can cause jaundice include:
- Infections of the liver from a virus (hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E) or a parasite
- Use of certain drugs (such as an overdose of acetaminophen) or exposure to poisons
- Birth defects or disorders present since birth that makes it hard for the body to breakdown bilirubin (such as Gilbert syndrome, Dubin-Johnson syndrome, Rotor syndrome, or Crigler-Najjar syndrome)
- Liver damage
- Gallstones or gallbladder disorders
- Blood disorders
- Cancer of the pancreas
- Bile build-up in the gallbladder because of pressure in the belly area during pregnancy (jaundice of pregnancy)
Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 20.
Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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