Jaundice 

Introduction 

Jaundice is caused by a build-up of bilirubin in the blood, resulting in a yellow tinge to the skin and the whites of the eyes 

Newborn jaundice

Newborn babies are often born with the symptoms of jaundice. At a very young age, the various systems the body uses to remove bilirubin from the body aren't fully developed.

Newborn jaundice tends to not be a cause for concern. It usually resolves within two weeks without treatment.

Read more about newborn jaundice.

Jaundice is a term used to describe the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

It's caused by a build-up of a substance called bilirubin in the blood and tissues of the body.

Signs of jaundice

The most common signs of jaundice are:

  • yellowing of the skin, eyes and mucus membrane (the lining of the body's passageways and cavities, such as the mouth and nose)
  • pale-coloured stools (faeces)
  • dark-coloured urine

When to seek medical advice

Always seek immediate medical advice if you develop the above signs of jaundice. They are an important warning sign that something is wrong with the normal processes of your body.

Speak to your GP as soon as possible. If this isn't possible, telephone NHS 111 or contact your local out-of-hours service.

Types of jaundice

There are three types of jaundice depending on what is causing disruption to the normal removal of bilirubin from the body.

The three main types of jaundice are described below.

  • pre-hepatic jaundice – the disruption occurs before the bilirubin has been transported from the blood to the liver. This is caused by conditions such as sickle cell anaemia and haemolytic anaemia.
  • intra-hepatic jaundice (also known as hepatocellular jaundice) – the disruption occurs inside the liver. This is caused by conditions such as Gilbert's syndrome, cirrhosis or other liver damage.
  • post-hepatic jaundice (also known as obstructive jaundice) – the disruption prevents the bile (and the bilirubin inside it) from draining out of the gallbladder and into the digestive system. This is caused by conditions such as gallstones or tumours.

Read more about the causes of jaundice.

Who's at risk

Intra-hepatic and post-hepatic jaundice are more common in middle-aged and elderly people than in the young. Pre-hepatic jaundice can affect people of all ages, including children.

Certain lifestyle changes may help prevent jaundice. You can do this by maintaining a healthy weight, managing how much alcohol you drink and minimising your risk of hepatitis, for example.

Read more about preventing jaundice.

Treating jaundice

Treatment for jaundice in adults and older children depends on the underlying condition that's causing it.

Following tests to determine the cause of jaundice, appropriate treatment will be recommended.

Read more about diagnosing jaundice.

Page last reviewed: 26/02/2013

Next review due: 26/02/2015

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