Sunday, December 21, 2014

Jaundice - yellow skin

Table of Contents

Definition

Jaundice is a yellow color in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes. The yellow pigment is from bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells. Jaundice is also a symptom of other disorders.

This article is about jaundice in children and adults.

See also: Newborn jaundice for information about babies


Alternative Names

Yellow skin and eyes; Skin - yellow; Icterus; Eyes - yellow; Jaundice


Considerations

If you’ve ever had a bruise, you may have noticed that the skin went through a series of color changes as it healed. When you saw yellow in the bruise, you were seeing bilirubin.

Normally, about 1% of our red blood cells retire every day, to be replaced by fresh red blood cells. The old ones are handled by the liver. Bilirubin is left after blood cells are disposed of. It leaves the body in the stool.

When too much bilirubin (yellow pigment) builds up in the body, jaundice may result.

Jaundice can be caused by:

  • Too many red blood cells retiring for the liver to handle
  • The liver being overloaded or damaged
  • The bilirubin from the liver is unable to move through the biliary tract to the gut

The skin may turn a yellow-to-orange color if you ingest too much beta carotene, the orange pigment in carrots. In this condition, the whites of the eyes remain white. People with true jaundice often have a yellowish tinge to the eyes. This condition is called hypercarotenemia, or just carotenemia.


Common Causes

Causes seen only in children include:

  • Biliary atresia
  • Disorders present since birth that cause problems processing bilirubin (Gilbert syndrome, Dubin-Johnson syndrome, Rotor syndrome, or Crigler-Najjar syndrome)

Causes in adults include:

  • Alcoholic liver disease (alcoholic cirrhosis)
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Blocked or narrowed bile ducts (by infection, tumor, stricture, or gallstones)
  • Cancer of the pancreas
  • Disorders present since birth that cause problems processing bilirubin (Gilbert syndrome, Dubin-Johnson syndrome, Rotor syndrome, or Crigler-Najjar syndrome)
  • Drug-induced cholestasis
  • Drug-induced hepatitis
  • Hemolytic anemia (when the body is destroying too many blood cells)
  • Ischemic hepatocellular jaundice (jaundice caused by not enough oxygen or blood to the liver)
  • Jaundice of pregnancy (bile may build up in the gallbladder because of pressure in the abdomen during pregnancy)
  • Malaria
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Viral hepatitis (hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E)

See also: Newborn jaundice for information about babies



Review Date: 01/29/2010
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org)