What is jaundice?
Jaundice is the yellow discolouration of your skin and the whites of your eyes.
Jaundice is not a disease by itself, but it is a sign of a health problem. It may be a sign of a problem in the liver, or sometimes in the gallbladder or pancreas. Occasionally, problems with your blood can cause jaundice.
When an adult becomes jaundiced, it can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Jaundice is caused by the build-up of a substance called bilirubin in your blood.
Because bilirubin is processed in the liver, jaundice is usually a symptom of liver disease caused by:
- viral infections (hepatitis A, B or C)
- cirrhosis or heavy drinking
- autoimmune disease, such as primary biliary cirrhosis
- hereditary conditions, such as Dubin–Johnson syndrome
- Gilbert syndrome.
Jaundice can also result from a blockage beyond the liver, caused by:
- pancreatic or gallbladder cancer
- obstruction of the biliary tract
Your doctor will talk to you, examine your abdomen for painful areas and ask about your symptoms. With jaundice you may have:
Your doctor may order blood and urine tests to check your level of bilirubin. They may also order an ultrasound scan to check for obstructions or signs of liver and pancreatic disease. In some cases, your doctor may request a liver biopsy to confirm liver disease.
There are many different treatments. It depends on the cause. Talk to your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
Last reviewed: October 2015