Jaundice is a yellow color of the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes. The yellow coloring comes from bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells. Jaundice can be a symptom of several health problems.
A small number of red blood cells in your body die each day, and are replaced by new ones. The liver removes the old blood cells. This creates bilirubin. The liver helps break down bilirubin so that it can be removed by the body through the stool.
Jaundice can occur when too much bilirubin builds up in the body.
Jaundice can occur if:
Jaundice is often a sign of a problem with the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas. Things that can cause jaundice include:
Jaundice may appear suddenly or develop slowly over time. Symptoms of jaundice commonly include:
Note: If your skin is yellow and the whites of your eyes are not yellow, you may not have jaundice. Your skin can turn a yellow-to-orange color if you eat a lot of beta carotene, the orange pigment in carrots.
Other symptoms depend on the disorder causing the jaundice:
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show liver swelling.
A bilirubin blood test will be done. Other tests may include:
Treatment depends on the cause of the jaundice.
Contact your provider if you develop jaundice.
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.