Jaundice is a yellow color in the skin, mucous 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 talks about the possible causes of jaundice in children and adults. Newborn jaundice occurs in very young infants.
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 (hemolysis) and going to the liver.
- The liver is overloaded or damaged.
- The bilirubin from the liver is not able 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 reactions to other medicines or or exposure to poisons (for example, poisonous mushrooms)
- 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)
- Chronic liver disease
- Gallstones or gallbladder disorders causing blockage of the bile duct
- Blood disorders
- Cancer of the pancreas
- Bile buildup in the gallbladder because of pressure in the belly area during pregnancy (jaundice of pregnancy)
Causes of jaundice; Cholestasis
Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 21.
Wyatt JI, Haugk B. Liver, biliary system and pancreas. In: Cross SS, ed. Underwood's Pathology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 16.
Review Date 7/1/2021
Updated by: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus 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.