Jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow-brown colored substance in bile. Bile is a liquid that carries waste products and bilirubin away from the liver. It also helps break down fats in the small intestine. It is formed during the body's normal process of breaking down red blood cells.
There are several reasons why too much bilirubin can build up in the blood. They include:
Factors that may increase your chance of jaundice are similar to risk factors for liver and gallbladder disorders. They may include:
Jaundice may indicate another condition or disease. In addition to jaundice, you may experience other symptoms. Symptoms may include:
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In order to make a diagnosis on what is causing jaundice, your doctor may recommend tests. Tests may include:
In most other types of jaundice, the specific condition causing it must be treated. There are many treatments that may be used for liver and gallbladder problems depending on the exact condition. They include:
Mild jaundice in newborns is common and usually clears without treatment. If bilirubin levels rise above a certain level, the baby may receive phototherapy, which is treatment with a special ultraviolet light. In Gilbert syndrome, jaundice tends to clear without treatment.
Prevention depends on the disorder causing jaundice. You may not be able to prevent some of the disorders. However, you can take the steps below to decrease your chance of developing liver disease:
American Gastroenterological Association
American Liver Foundation
Canadian Liver Foundation
Abnormal liver function tests. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T316452/Abnormal-liver-function-tests. Updated February 13, 2014. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Bilirubin. American Association for Clinical Chemistry Lab Tests Online website. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/bilirubin/tab/glance. Updated March 18, 2013. Accessed April 23, 2013.
Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116718/Neonatal-hyperbilirubinemia. Updated August 5, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.