What is jaundice?
Jaundice is the yellow discolouration of your skin, the whites of your eyes and body fluids. If you have jaundice, it's important to visit your doctor straight away for a health check.
Jaundice is not a disease in itself, but 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. This can be caused by:
- viral infections (such as hepatitis A, B or C, D or E)
- 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
Jaundice symptoms and diagnosis
Your doctor will talk to you, examine your abdomen and ask about your symptoms. With jaundice, you can have:
Your doctor may order blood and urine tests to check your level of bilirubin and assess the health of your liver. 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 for jaundice. It depends on the cause. For more information, talk to your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
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Last reviewed: January 2018