Jaundice : Understanding Symptoms and Treatment Options


Jaundice is the appearance of skin or the whites of eyes, as yellow. 

Specifically, the skin, mucous membranes, and sclera (the whites of the eyes) turn yellow when someone has jaundice. High levels of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment, are what give this color its yellow hue.

The skin, eye whites, and mucous membranes all become yellow when the level of the bile pigment bilirubin is high. There are several reasons for jaundice, including hepatitis, gallstones, and tumors. Jaundice in adults typically does not require medical attention.

The illness known as jaundice causes the skin, mucous membranes, and sclera (the whites of the eyes) to become yellow. A high concentration of the yellow-orange bile pigment bilirubin is the reason for this color's yellow hue. The liver secretes a fluid called bile. Red blood cells are broken down to produce bilirubin.

A person who has jaundice could notice that their skin, mucous membranes, and eye whites have a yellowish tint. It can occur with a number of medical disorders and often denotes a liver or bile duct issue.

Bilirubin, a waste product, can accumulate in the blood when the liver is not functioning correctly.

A person's skin, eyes, and mucous membranes might become yellow with moderate bilirubin levels. As it progresses, the color may also change from yellow to green. Biliverdin, a green pigment found in bile, is what gives the color its appearance.

Jaundice, which often stems from an underlying ailment, can affect people of all ages. Older persons and newborns are most likely to risk becoming jaundiced.


Any one of the three steps in the synthesis of bilirubin might go wrong and result in jaundice.

You can have what's known as unconjugated jaundice, which is elevated bilirubin levels brought on by:

  • The disappearance of a large hematoma (a collection of clotted or partially clotted blood under the skin).
  • The reduction of a significant hematoma (a collection of clotted or partially clotted blood under the skin).

Jaundice may develop during bilirubin production from:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Chronic Hepatitis B and C, and Epstein-Barr virus infection are examples of viruses (infectious mononucleosis).
  • Alcohol.
  • Autoimmune illnesses.
  • Rare metabolic genetic abnormalities.
  • Prescription drugs, such as acetaminophen toxicity, penicillins, oral contraceptives, chlorpromazine (Thorazine®), and anabolic or estrogenic steroids.

Obstruction may result in jaundice after bilirubin has been generated (blockage)

from the bile ducts:

  • Gallstones.
  • Gallbladder inflammation (swelling).
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Tumor in the pancreas.

When the red blood cells naturally degrade, bilirubin levels rise. This waste material is often removed by the liver from the circulation and changed into a different form called conjugated bilirubin. The altered form then exits the body through the person's stool.

If there is an excess of bilirubin that the liver is unable to get rid of, it can build up in the body.

The yellow hue of the skin and eyes is brought on by hyperbilirubinemia.

The most common cause of jaundice is an underlying condition that either increases the amount of bilirubin produced or hinders the liver's ability to remove it.

Jaundice may have several underlying disorders and causes, such as:

  • Adverse effects of certain drugs
  • Heavy alcohol intake, pancreatic or gallbladder cancer, cirrhosis,
  • Hepatitis or other liver infections, which is a condition that makes scar tissue replace healthy tissue in the liver.
  • A blood disorder

How to check if you have Jaundice?

There are several potential causes for the buildup of bilirubin. The production of bilirubin can be seen to be in stages which may result in jaundice.

Before bilirubin has been produced:

You might experience what's known as unconjugated jaundice, which is elevated bilirubin levels brought on by:

  • Resorption of a large hematoma (clotted blood under the skin).
  • Anemias with hemolysis (blood cells removed before the normal time period is over).

Jaundice may develop during bilirubin production from:

  • Liver illness brought on by alcohol, hepatitis, sickle cell anemia, and pancreatitis.
  • Uncommon genetic disorders in metabolism.
  • Prescription medications include chlorpromazine (Thorazine®), oral contraceptives, penicillin, acetaminophen toxicity, and anabolic or estrogenic steroids.

Jaundice may result from bile ducts being blocked after bilirubin is created from:

  • Gallstones.
  • Inflammation of the gallbladder (swelling).
  • Biliary duct cancer
  • A pancreatic tumor

Risk Factors

In general, middle-aged women and men are more impacted by the generation of bilirubin. 

Hepatitis-positive individuals and people who drink lots of alcohol are also at higher risk.


On occasion, the patient may not detect their jaundice till it is accidentally found. The underlying reasons and how fast or slowly the disease progresses determine how severe the symptoms are.

You may experience the following signs and symptoms if you have short-term jaundice, which is often brought on by an infection:

  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Influenza-like symptoms.
  • Skin tone modification.
  • Feces or urine is a dark clay color.

If an infection is not the cause of your jaundice, symptoms like weight loss or itchy skin might be present (pruritus).

The most frequent symptom of pancreatic or biliary tract cancers is abdominal pain.

You may occasionally get jaundice linked to liver disease if you have:

  • Liver inflammation or chronic hepatitis
  • Gangrenous pyoderma (a type of skin disease).
  • Hepatitis A, B, or C that is acute.
  • Polyarthralgias (inflamed joints)


It is challenging to offer precise preventive measures for jaundice because of its diverse causes. Here are some general pointers:

  • Refrain from hepatitis infections.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption as prescribed.
  • Remain at a healthy weight.
  • Regulate your cholesterol.


With adults, jaundice typically does not need treatment.  Both the causes and effects of jaundice can be treated.

The cause of jaundice will determine the best course of treatment. For instance, cholestyramine (Questran®), which is used to treat itching, may make it less unpleasant.

The method of therapy will depend on the underlying cause of jaundice.

Pruritus or itching can result from jaundice. Antihistamines and warm oatmeal-infused baths can be used to treat mild pruritus.

Medications like colestipol or cholestyramine may be prescribed to people with mild to severe pruritus.

Depending on the degree of the injury, a liver transplant may occasionally be required since jaundice can occasionally signify liver damage.

Complications of Jaundice

Some of the side effects of getting treatment for jaundice to include: 

  • Constipation.
  • Bloating.
  • A stomachache
  • Gas.
  • Uneasy stomach
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.


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Page last reviewed: Mar 15, 2023

Next review due: Mar 15, 2025

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