Jaundice-Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Jaundice, also known as icterus, is a term used to describe a yellowish tinge to the skin and the whites of the eye. The yellowish or greenish pigmentation of the skin and whites of the eyes is due to high bilirubin levels. Body fluids may also be yellow. This article helps you knowing in detail about causes, symptoms and treatment of jaundice.

The colour of the skin and whites of the eyes will vary depending on levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a waste material found in the blood. Moderate levels lead to a yellow colour, while very high levels appear brown.

Jaundice in adults is typically a sign indicating the presence of underlying diseases involving abnormal hememetabolism, biliary-tract obstruction. The prevalence of jaundice in adults is rare, while jaundice in babies is common. About 80% of all infants born are affected during their first week of life. However, jaundice can happen to people of all ages and is normally the result of an underlying condition. Jaundice normally indicates a problem with the liver or bile duct. The most commonly associated symptoms of jaundice are itchiness, pale feces, and dark urine.


There are three main types of jaundice:

  1. Hemolytic jaundice occurs as a result of hemolysis, or an accelerated breakdown of red blood cells, leading to an increase in production of bilirubin. If for some reason the breakdown is more than the manufacturing, the liver is not able to remove the excess amount of bilirubin. A classic example is Malaria, where the parasites live within red blood cells and finally kill them. The new red blood cells are not formed in time to take the place of the old ones. Therefore, people with malaria have a high risk of contracting jaundice.
  2. Hepatocellular jaundice occurs as a result of liver disease or injury. The viral infection of the liver, also known as hepatitis, liver cancer, and scarring of the liver causing liver damage also known as cirrhosis, which occurs due to alcohol abuse.
  3. Obstructive jaundice occurs as a result of an obstruction in the bile duct. The bile duct consists of a system of tubes which carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and the small intestine. Examples can be a cyst, gallstones in the ducts of the biliary system, scar tissue due to a previous surgery or infection, and swollen lymph glands. This prevents bilirubin from leaving the liver.


Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of eyes that happens when the body does not process bilirubin properly. This may be due to a problem in the liver. Bilirubin is a yellow colored waste material that remains in the bloodstream after iron is removed from the blood.

The liver filters waste out from the blood. When bilirubin reaches the liver, other chemicals attach to it. A substance called conjugated bilirubin results. The liver produces bile, a digestive juice. Conjugated bilirubin enters the bile, then it leaves the body. It is this type of bilirubin that gives feces its brown colour.

If there is too much bilirubin , it can leak into the surrounding tissues. This is known as hyperbilirubinemia, and it causes the yellow colour in the skin and eyes.

Underlying conditions that may causes jaundice include:

  • Acute inflammation of the liver: This may impair the ability of the liver to conjugated and secrete bilirubin, resulting in a buildup.
  • Hemolytic anemia: The production of bilirubin increases when large quantities of red blood cells are broken down.
  • Inflammation of the bile duct: This can prevent the secretion of bile and removal of bilirubin, causing jaundice.
  • Obstruction of the bile duct: This prevents the liver from disposing of bilirubin.
  • Cholestasis: This interrupts the flow of the bile from the liver. The bile containing conjugated bilirubin remains in the liver instead of being excreted.

Rarer conditions that may cause jaundice include:

Crigler-Najjar syndrome: This is inherited condition that impairs the specific enzyme responsible for processing bilirubin.

Dubin-Johnson syndrome: This is an inherited form of chronic jaundice that prevents conjugated bilirubin from being secreted from the cells of the liver.

Pseudo jaundice: This is a harmless from jaundice. The yellowing of the skin results from an excess of beta carotene, not from excess of bilirubin. Pseudo jaundice usually arises from eating large quantities of carrot, pumpkin or melon.


Sometimes, the person may not have symptoms of jaundice, and the condition may be found accidentally. The severity of symptoms depends on the underlying causes and how quickly or slowly the disease develops.

common symptoms of jaundice include:

  • Yellow colour to the skin and skin
  • Dark urine
  • Itchiness
  • Pale stools

Symptoms of jaundice resulting from low bilirubin levels:

  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain (Occurs when jaundice is caused by pancreatic or biliary tract cancers). 


Jaundice usually doesn’t require treatment in adults (it’s a more severe problem in infants). The causes and complications of jaundice can be treated. For example, if itching is annoying, it may be eased by cholestyramine.

Anemia induced jaundice may be treated by boosting the amount of iron in the blood by either taking iron supplements or eating more iron rich foods.

Hepatitis induced jaundice requires antiviral or steroid medications. Obstruction induced jaundice requires surgery to remove the obstruction.

If jaundice has been caused by use of a medication, treatment for involves changing to an alternative medication.


Complications happens usually because of the underlying problem, not the jaundice itself. For instance, if an obstructed bile duct leads to jaundice, uncontrolled bleeding may result. This is because the blockage leads a shortage of vitamins needed for clotting. The itching that accompanies jaundice can sometimes be so intense that patients have been known to scratch their skin raw, experience insomnia, or, in extreme cases, even have thoughts of suicide.

The complications of jaundice will depend on your medical conditions, the jaundice type and severity. Some common complications include:

  • Anemia
  • Bleeding
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Infections
  • Swelling of legs
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Stomach pain

If it is Infant Jaundice or jaundice in a baby, the complications that may affect the infant include:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Continuous crying
  • Difficulty in waking up or being alert

Severe jaundice in an infant may lead to permanent brain damage, apart from hearing loss, uncontrolled bodily movements, and improper development of tooth enamel.


jaundice is related to liver function. Since there are many causes of jaundice, it’s hard to provide specific prevention measures. It is essential that people maintain the health of this vital organ by following general tips:

  • Balanced diet
  • Avoid hepatitis infection.
  • Stay within recommended alcohol limits.
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Managing cholesterol levels.


  • Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, a waste material in the blood.
  • An excess of bilirubin can cause the yellow tinge in the eyes and in the skin.
  • Symptoms include a yellow tinge to the skin and whites of the eyes, dark urine and itchiness.
  • The yellow tinge to the skin and whites of the eyes, normally stats at the head and spreads down the body.
  • Diagnosis of jaundice can involve a range of tests.
  • Jaundice is treated and prevented by following proper medication, diet and some tips.