ZocdocAnswersWhat causes jaundice?

Question

What causes jaundice?

I think that my skin is yellowing and that I have jaundice. What causes this? Does it mean that something is wrong with my organs?

Answer

Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, is a commonly seen manifestation of a variety of illnesses. It occurs when too much bilirubin is in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a pigment that is normally found in red blood cells and in bile that is produced by the liver. Any problems that interfere with the normal breakdown of red blood cells or metabolism/clearance of bile by the liver can lead to too much bilirubin in the blood, which causes jaundice. Excessive breakdown (ie, hemolysis) of red blood cells can occur as a result of certain medications, congential enzyme deficiencies, and infection (such as malaria). Liver disorders that can lead to jaundice include cirrhosis, cancer, and infection, among others. Defects in the clearance of bile from the liver into the small intestine can also lead to jaundice; these processes include gall stones obstructing the common bile duct or an obstruction at the head of the pancreas (such as a cancer). While some conditions that cause jaundice are relatively benign, others are more serious, and therefore it is advised that you seek out the care of your primary care physician. He/she can perform a thorough history and physical exam and use additional testing (blood work or imaging) as needed to help come up with a diagnosis.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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