“Jaundice” is the medical term that describes yellowing of the skin and eyes. Jaundice itself is not a disease, but it is a symptom of several possible underlying illnesses. Jaundice forms when there is too much bilirubin in your system. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is created by the breakdown of dead red blood cells in the liver. Normally, the liver gets rid of bilirubin along with old red blood cells.

Jaundice may indicate a serious problem with the function of your red blood cells, liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.

Many internal conditions can cause yellowing of the skin. Here is a list of 23 possible causes.

Warning: Graphic images ahead.

Hepatitis

HepatitisShare on Pinterest
  • This inflammatory condition of the liver is caused by infection, autoimmune disease, extreme blood loss, medications, drugs, toxins, or alcohol.
  • It may be acute or chronic, depending on the cause.
  • Fatigue, lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, itching skin, right upper abdominal pain, yellow skin or eyes, and fluid buildup in the abdomen are possible symptoms.
Read full article on hepatitis.

Newborn jaundice

Newborn jaundiceShare on Pinterest
Image by: Dr. Hudson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Newborn jaundice is a common condition that occurs when a baby has a high level of bilirubin in the blood soon after birth.
  • It often goes away on its own as a baby’s liver develops and as the baby begins to feed, which helps bilirubin pass through the body.
  • Very high levels of bilirubin can put a baby at risk for deafness, cerebral palsy, or other forms of brain damage, so jaundice should be carefully monitored if it occurs after birth.
  • The first sign of jaundice is yellowing of the skin or eyes that begins within two to four days after birth and may start on the face before spreading down across the body.
  • Symptoms of dangerously elevated bilirubin levels include jaundice that spreads or becomes more intense over time, fever, poor feeding, listlessness, and high-pitched crying.
Read full article on newborn jaundice.

Breast milk jaundice

Breast milk jaundiceShare on Pinterest
Image by: Dr. Hudson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • This type of jaundice is associated with breastfeeding.
  • It typically occurs one week after birth.
  • Usually, it doesn't cause any problems and eventually goes away on its own.
  • It causes yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes, fatigue, poor weight gain, and high-pitched crying.
Read full article on breast milk jaundice.

Thalassemia

  • Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin.
  • The disorder results in excessive destruction of red blood cells, which leads to anemia.
  • There are three main types of thalassemia that vary in symptoms and severity.
  • Symptoms include bone deformities (especially in the face), dark urine, delayed growth and development, excessive tiredness and fatigue, and yellow or pale skin.
Read full article on thalassemia.

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancerShare on Pinterest
Image by: James Heilman, MD [CC BY 3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
  • Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells of the pancreas, which is a vital endocrine organ located behind the stomach, become cancerous and grow out of control.
  • Pancreatic cancer may be difficult to detect and is often diagnosed in more advanced stages of the disease.
  • Common symptoms include loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, abdominal (stomach) or lower back pain, blood clots, jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), and depression.
Read full article on pancreatic cancer.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis BShare on Pinterest
  • Infection by the hepatitis B virus causes this type of liver inflammation.
  • It spreads through direct contact with infected blood; being pricked with a contaminated needle or sharing needles; transfer from mother to baby during birth; oral, vaginal, and anal sex without condom protection; and using a razor or any other personal item with remnants of infected fluid.
  • Common symptoms include fatigue, dark urine, joint and muscle pain, loss of appetite, fever, abdominal discomfort, weakness and yellowing of the whites of the eyes (sclera) and skin (jaundice).
  • Complications of chronic hepatitis B infection include liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver failure, liver cancer, and death.
  • Hepatitis B infection can be prevented with routine immunization.
Read full article on hepatitis B.

Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency

  • This genetic abnormality results in an inadequate amount of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) in the blood.
  • G6PD deficiency causes red blood cells to break down and be destroyed prematurely, leading to hemolytic anemia.
  • Anemia can be triggered by eating fava beans and legumes, experiencing infections, or taking certain medications.
  • Fatigue, yellowing of the skin and eyes, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, urine that is dark or yellow-orange, pale skin, and dizziness are possible symptoms.
Read full article on glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis CShare on Pinterest
  • Some people report mild to severe symptoms including fever, dark urine, loss of appetite, abdominal pain or discomfort, joint pain, jaundice.
  • Infection by the hepatitis C virus causes this type of liver inflammation.
  • Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact with someone infected with HCV.
  • Approximately 70 to 80 percent of people with hepatitis C don't have symptoms.
Read full article on hepatitis C.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis EShare on Pinterest
Image: Wikimedia
  • Hepatitis E is a potentially serious acute liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus.
  • The infection is spread by drinking or eating contaminated food or water, blood transfusions, or mother-to-child transmission.
  • Most cases of infection clear up on their own after a few weeks, but in rare cases infection may cause liver failure.
  • Yellowing of the skin, dark urine, joint pain, a loss of appetite, pain in the abdomen, liver enlargement, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and fever are possible symptoms.
Read full article on hepatitis E.

Alcoholic liver disease

  • This diseased, inflammatory condition of the liver is caused by heavy alcohol consumption over an extended period of time.
  • Symptoms vary depending on the amount of damage to the liver.
  • Easy bleeding or bruising, fatigue, changes in your mental state (including confusion0, jaundice (or yellowing of the skin or eyes), pain or swelling in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, and weight loss are all possible symptoms.
Read full article on alcoholic liver disease.

Hepatitis D

 Hepatitis DShare on Pinterest
Image by: Rafael Aldabe, Lester Suárez-Amarán, Carla Usai and Gloria González-Aseguinolaza. [CC BY 4.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Infection by both the hepatitis B and hepatitis D viruses causes this type of liver inflammation.
  • You can only contract hepatitis D if you already have hepatitis B.
  • The infection is contagious and spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
  • Symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes, joint pain, abdominal pain, vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine and fatigue.
Read full article on hepatitis D.

Gallstones

  • Gallstones form when there's a high concentration of bile, bilirubin, or cholesterol in the fluid stored inside the gallbladder.
  • Gallstones don't usually cause symptoms or pain until they obstruct the gallbladder opening or bile ducts.
  • Upper right abdomen pain or stomach pain occurs after eating foods that are high in fat.
  • Other symptoms include pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dark urine, white stools, diarrhea, burping, and indigestion.
Read full article on gallstones.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis AShare on Pinterest
  • Infection by the hepatitis A virus causes this type of liver inflammation.
  • This is highly contagious form of hepatitis can be spread through contaminated food or water.
  • It generally isn't serious and usually causes no long-term effects, and can be prevented with immunization before traveling to endemic areas or areas with poor sanitation services.
  • Symptoms include tapid onset of nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, and body aches.
  • Dark urine, pale stools, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, itchy skin, and enlarged liver may occur within a week after contracting the virus.
Read full article on hepatitis A.

Cirrhosis

cirrhosisShare on Pinterest
By James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Diarrhea, decreased appetite and weight loss, swelling belly
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Small, spider-shaped blood vessels visible underneath the skin
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes and itchy skin
Read full article on cirrhosis.

Bile duct obstruction

biliary (bile duct) obstructionShare on Pinterest
By Hellerhoff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • Most commonly caused by gallstones, but may also be caused by injury to the liver or gallbladder, inflammation, tumors, infections, cysts, or liver damage
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes, extremely itchy skin without rash, light-colored stools, very dark urine
  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, fever
  • Obstruction can cause serious infection that requires urgent medical attention
Read full article on bile duct obstruction.

Sickle cell anemia

Sickle cell anemiaShare on Pinterest
Image by: OpenStax College [CC BY 3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease of the red blood cells that causes them to take on a crescent moon or sickle shape.
  • Sickle-shaped red blood cells are prone to getting trapped in small vessels, which blocks blood from reaching different parts of the body.
  • Sickle-shaped cells get destroyed faster than normal-shaped red blood cells, leading to anemia.
  • Symptoms include excessive fatigue, pale skin and gums, yellowing of the skin and eyes, swelling and pain in hands and feet, frequent infections, and episodes of extreme pain in the chest, back, arms, or legs.
Read full article on sickle cell anemia.

Liver cancer

 Liver cancerShare on Pinterest
Image by: Haymanj [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
  • Primary liver cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when the cells of the liver become cancerous and begin to grow out of control
  • The different types of primary liver cancer originate from the various cells that make up the liver
  • Abdominal discomfort, pain, and tenderness, particularly in the upper right abdomen, are possible symptoms
  • Other symptoms include yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes; white, chalky stools; nausea; vomiting; bruising or bleeding easily; weakness; and fatigue
Read full article on liver cancer.

Acute pancreatitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • This painful inflammation of the pancreas is most commonly caused by gallstones or alcohol misuse.
  • Sudden constant, intense pain in the upper part of the abdomen may travel around the body to the back.
  • Pain worsens when you lie on your back and gets better when sitting up or leaning forward.
  • Nausea and vomiting may occur.
Read full article on acute pancreatitis.

Idiopathic autoimmune hemolytic anemia

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • This group of rare but serious blood disorders occur when the body destroys red blood cells more rapidly than it produces them.
  • These disorders may occur at any point in life and can develop suddenly or gradually.
  • Red blood cell destruction causes moderate to severe anemia.
  • Symptoms include increasing weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, pale or yellow skin, dark urine, rapid heart rate, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Read full article on idiopathic autoimmune hemolytic anemia.

ABO incompatibility reaction

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • This is a rare but serious and potentially fatal response to incompatible blood after a blood transfusion
  • Symptoms begin within a few minutes of receiving a transfusion
  • These include fever and chills, breathing difficulties, muscle aches, nausea
  • Chest, abdominal, or back pain, blood in your urine, jaundice are other possible symptoms
Read full article on ABO incompatibility reaction.

Drug-induced immune hemolytic anemia

  • This occurs when a medication causes the body's immune (defense) system to mistakenly attack its own red blood cells.
  • Symptoms may occur minutes to days after taking a medication.
  • Symptoms include fatigue, dark urine, pale skin and gums, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, yellowing of skin or the whites of the eyes.
Read full article on drug-induced immune hemolytic anemia.

Yellow fever

Yellow feverShare on Pinterest
Image by: Bobjgalindo (Own work) [GFDL (gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Yellow fever is a serious, potentially deadly, flu-like viral disease spread by mosquitoes.
  • It's most prevalent in certain parts of Africa and South America.
  • It can be prevented with a vaccination, which may be required if you are traveling to endemic areas.
  • Initial symptoms of the infection are similar to those of the influenza virus, including fever, chills, headache, body aches, and loss of appetite.
  • During the toxic phase of infection, initial symptoms may disappear for up to 24 hours and then return along with symptoms of decreased urination, abdominal pain, vomiting, heart rhythm problems, seizures, delirium, and bleeding from the mouth, nose, and eyes.
Read full article on yellow fever.

Weil’s disease

Weil’s diseaseShare on Pinterest
Image by: Photo Credit: Content Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Thomas F. Sellers/Emory University [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Weil's disease is a severe form of the leptospirosis bacterial infection that affects the kidney, liver, lungs, or brain.
  • It can be contracted through contact with contaminated soil or water, or the urine, blood, or tissue of animals that are infected with the bacteria.
  • Weil's disease symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, swollen ankles, feet, or hands, swollen liver, decreased urination, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Read full article on Weil’s disease.

Yellow-tinted skin and eyes characterize jaundice. In more severe cases, the whites of your eyes may turn brown or orange. You may also have dark urine and pale stools.

If an underlying health condition such as viral hepatitis is to blame for the jaundice, you might experience other symptoms, including excessive fatigue and vomiting.

Some people misdiagnose themselves when they experience yellow skin. People who have jaundice usually have both yellow-colored skin and yellow-colored eyes.

If you only have yellow skin, it may be due to having too much beta carotene in your system. Beta carotene is an antioxidant found in foods such as carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. An excess of this antioxidant is not a cause of jaundice.

Old red blood cells travel to your liver, where they’re broken down. Bilirubin is the yellow pigment formed by the breakdown of these old cells. Jaundice occurs when your liver doesn’t metabolize bilirubin the way it’s supposed to.

Your liver might be damaged and unable to perform this process. Sometimes the bilirubin simply can’t make it to your digestive tract, where it normally would be removed through your stool. In other cases, there may be too much bilirubin trying to enter the liver at once or too many red blood cells dying at one time.

Jaundice in adults is indicative of:

Jaundice is also a frequent occurrence in newborns, especially in babies who are born prematurely. An excess of bilirubin may develop in newborns because their livers haven’t fully developed yet. This condition is known as breast milk jaundice.

Your healthcare provider will first conduct blood tests to determine the cause of your jaundice. A blood test can not only determine the total amount of bilirubin in your body, but also help detect indicators of other diseases such as hepatitis.

Other diagnostic tests may be used, including:

  • liver function tests, a series of blood tests that measure levels of certain proteins and enzymes the liver produces when it’s healthy and when it’s damaged
  • complete blood count (CBC), to see if you have any evidence of hemolytic anemia
  • imaging studies, which may include abdominal ultrasounds (using high-frequency sound waves to generate images of your internal organs) or CT scans
  • liver biopsies, which involves removing small samples of liver tissue for testing and microscopic examination

The severity of jaundice in newborns is generally diagnosed with a blood test. A small blood sample is taken by pricking the infant’s toe. Your pediatrician will recommend treatment if the results indicate moderate to severe jaundice.

Again, jaundice itself isn’t a disease but a symptom of several possible underlying illnesses. The type of treatment your healthcare provider recommends for jaundice depends on its cause. Your healthcare provider will treat the cause of the jaundice, not the symptom itself. Once treatment begins, your yellow skin will likely return to its normal state.

According to the American Liver Foundation, most jaundice cases in infants resolve within one to two weeks.

Moderate jaundice is typically treated with phototherapy in the hospital or in the home to help remove excess bilirubin.

The light waves used in phototherapy are absorbed by your baby’s skin and blood. The light helps your baby’s body change the bilirubin into waste products to be eliminated. Frequent bowel movements with greenish stools are a common side effect of this therapy. This is just the bilirubin exiting the body. Phototherapy may involve the use of a lighted pad, which mimics natural sunlight and is placed on your baby’s skin.

Severe cases of jaundice are treated with blood transfusions to remove bilirubin.

Jaundice usually clears up when the underlying cause is treated. Outlook depends on your overall condition. See your healthcare provider right away as jaundice may be a sign of a serious illness. Mild cases of jaundice in newborns tend to go away on their own without treatment and cause no lasting liver issues.