Jaundice - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Jaundice itself is not a disease. Instead, it is a symptom of any underlying condition. It is a condition in which your skin, eyes, and mucus membrane turn yellow because of the accumulation of bilirubin- an orange-yellow bile pigment. Jaundice can occur due to reasons like gallstones, hepatitis, or tumors. Treating the underlying cause helps in its elimination too. Mostly newborn babies get it. But it can occur in adults too. If you have any symptoms of jaundice, you should visit the healthcare provider as soon as possible. 


Short term jaundice, which is often associated with infections, causes signs and symptoms like;

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Change in skin color

  • Dark-colored urine 

  • Clay-colored stool

  • Abdominal pain

  • Flu-like symptoms

If jaundice does not occur due to infections, it may cause pruritus and weight loss.

If pancreatic cancer or biliary tract cancers cause jaundice, it causes abdominal pain. 


In adults, jaundice occurs due to too much bilirubin- a yellow-orange pigment present in your red blood cells. 

When your red blood cells break down, your liver filters out the bilirubin but, when your liver is not functioning well, accumulation of bilirubin takes place, eventually causing jaundice. In adults, jaundice is rare. But it can occur due to reasons like;

Hepatitis- refers to inflammation of the liver. It can occur due to many different reasons such as infections, alcohol abuse, autoimmune response, etc. One of the common causes of hepatitis is viral hepatitis- caused by the hepatitis virus. Autoimmune hepatitis refers to a condition in which the liver becomes inflamed due to the attack of the body's immune system.

Alcohol-related liver disease- Long-term alcohol consumption is one of the major causes of liver damage. If you drink a large amount of it in a day, it can lead to fatty liver, fibrosis, then cirrhosis, and eventually liver failure. You may think that the quantity of wine you consume is not bad for your health. But this may not be the case. The amount of alcohol that can damage your liver varies from person to person. A particular quantity may not harm one person, while it may harm another. Therefore, limit the alcohol intake up to the lowest possible amount.

Blocked Bile Ducts- Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile. The bile contains bilirubin- a breakdown product of red blood cells, and cholesterol, bile salts, and phospholipids. Bilirubin and cholesterol play an important role in stone formation. It is believed that too much of either bilirubin or cholesterol can form crystals, and ultimately stones. The stones can be divided into two types depending upon the substance that caused their formation. There are two types of gallstones namely:

Cholesterol gallstones- They are the most common type of gallstones and are made up of cholesterol.

Pigment stones: They are made up of bilirubin.

Another reason for gallstone formation can be impaired gallbladder emptying. When the gallbladder does not empty properly, it can result in saturation of bile, giving rise to gallstones.

Pancreatic cancer- The pancreas is an organ that lies in the lower part of the stomach that works as an endocrine and endocrine gland both. It produces hormones like insulin and glucagon, which helps in the regulation of blood sugar levels. Also, it produces digestive juices that help in the digestion of food. Malignancy of the pancreas is known as pancreatic cancer. 

In almost all cases of pancreatic cancer, jaundice occurs. It represents yellowing of the skin, yellow-colored greasy stools, yellow urine with yellow coloration in the eyes. Also, it causes itching. All this occurs due to the build-up of a compound called bilirubin. 

Certain medicines- drugs like steroids, acetaminophen, birth control pills, and penicillin can sometimes cause jaundice. 


The treatment for jaundice depends on the underlying cause. If jaundice occurs due to infections, there may be no need for treatment in the first six months of developing hepatitis B or C, as the infection may clear up on its own. However, if the infection becomes chronic, treatment is started that mainly involves antiviral drugs and interferons. The patient’s liver function is closely monitored to analyze the extent of damage to the liver.

The treatment of autoimmune hepatitis is usually focused on reducing the autoimmune response. For this, immunosuppressant drugs are given, such as prednisone. Complications of autoimmune hepatitis are treated accordingly. If the liver is damaged a lot, a liver transplant may be suggested.

If jaundice occurs due to gall stones, the healthcare provider treats gall stone blockage. For that, sometimes no treatment is needed, and they may pass on their own. However, if they get stuck in the cystic duct, the treatment options can include:

Shockwave lithotripsy: It is a non-invasive procedure in which shock waves are passed through the patient. These shock waves break the stones into tiny, small pieces, and they can pass easily on their own.

Cholecystectomy: This refers to surgery to remove the gallbladder. It is now done laparoscopically in a minimally invasive manner and involves several small incisions instead of a big one. The surgeon then removes the gallbladder through an incision.

If it occurs due to alcohol consumption, limit your alcohol intake. 


Jaundice is a condition in which skin, sclera of the eyes, and mucus membrane become yellow due to the accumulation of bile pigment. If left untreated, it can become life-threatening. Therefore you should visit the healthcare provider as soon as possible if you have any symptoms of jaundice. 

Doctors For Jaundice

Dr. Zia Ur Rehman Siddiqui

General Physician

15 Years

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