Jaundice

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and the whites of the eyes caused by increased amounts of bilirubin in the blood. Jaundice is a sign of an underlying disease process.

Bilirubin is a by-product of the daily natural breakdown and destruction of red blood cells in the body. The hemoglobin molecule that is released into the blood by this process is split, with the heme portion undergoing a chemical conversion to bilirubin. Normally, the liver metabolizes and excretes the bilirubin in the form of bile. However, if there is a disruption in this normal metabolism and/or production of bilirubin, jaundice may result.

Common signs and symptoms seen in individuals with jaundice include:

  • yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and the whites of the eyes
  • light-colored stools,
  • dark-colored urine, and
  • itching of the skin.

The underlying disease process may result in additional signs and symptoms. These may include:

  • nausea and vomiting,
  • abdominal pain,
  • fever,
  • weakness,
  • loss of appetite,
  • headache,
  • confusion,
  • swelling of the legs and abdomen, and
  • newborn jaundice.