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.
Reviewed By: 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.