Christie Clinic - Medicine for Your Life

Our website is currently having technical difficulties. To view the site, please click here

Health Encyclopedia

Health Encyclopedia

An invaluable resource of health information.

Jaundice - yellow skin

Jaundice is a yellow color in the skin, the mucous membranes, or the eyes. The yellow pigment is from bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells.

  • Alternative Names

    Yellow skin and eyes; Skin - yellow; Icterus; Eyes - yellow; Jaundice

  • Considerations

    If you’ve ever had a bruise, you may have noticed that the skin went through a series of color changes as it healed. When you saw yellow in the bruise, you were seeing bilirubin.

    Normally, about 1% of our red blood cells retire every day, to be replaced by fresh red blood cells. The old ones are processed in the liver and disposed of. Much of the resulting bilirubin leaves the body in the stool.

    If there are too many red blood cells retiring for the liver to handle, yellow pigment builds up in the body. When there is enough to be visible, jaundice results.

    Jaundice can be caused by too many red blood cells retiring, by the liver being overloaded or damaged, or by the inability to move processed bilirubin from the liver through the biliary tract to the gut.

    Most babies have some jaundice during the first week of life. The ordeal of birth can send many red blood cells to an early retirement (especially if a vacuum is used!), and babies’ livers are often unprepared for the load. Before mom’s milk comes in and stooling begins in earnest, bilirubin accumulates more easily. Jaundice is even more common in premature babies.

    Physiologic jaundice is the name for normal jaundice commonly seen in healthy babies.

    Pathologic jaundice is the name given when jaundice presents a health risk, either because of its degree or its cause. Pathologic jaundice can occur in children or adults. It arises for many reasons, including blood incompatibilities, blood diseases, genetic syndromes, hepatitis, cirrhosis, bile duct blockage, other liver diseases, infections, or medications. The term also applies to physiologic jaundice exaggerated by dehydration, prematurity, difficult delivery, or other reason.

    Another condition called Gilbert syndrome is a benign, hereditary condition in which mild jaundice develops. It is caused by low levels of some bilirubin-processing enzymes in the liver. This condition, once recognized, requires no further treatment or evaluation. There are other more rare hereditary causes of elevated bilirubin levels.

    A yellow to orange color may be imparted to the skin by consuming too much beta carotene, the orange pigment seen in carrots. In this condition, the whites of the eyes remain white, while people with true jaundice often have a yellowish tinge to the eyes.

    This condition is called hypercarotenemia or just carotenemia.
  • Common Causes

    Causes in children include:

    Breastfeeding jaundice may occur in the first week of life in more than 1 in 10 breastfed infants. The cause is thought to be inadequate milk intake, leading to dehydration or low caloric intake. It is a type of physiologic or exaggerated physiologic jaundice.

    Breast milk jaundice is far less common and occurs in about 1 in 200 babies. Here the jaundice isn’t usually visible until the baby is a week old. It often reaches its peak during the second or third week. Breast milk jaundice can be caused by substances in mom's milk that decrease the infant’s liver’s ability to deal with bilirubin. Breast milk jaundice rarely causes any problems, whether it is treated or not. It is usually not a reason to stop nursing.

    Causes in adults include:

  • Home Care

    The cause of jaundice must be determined before treatment can be given. Follow prescribed therapy to treat the underlying cause.

  • Call your health care provider if

    All jaundice in an infant, child, or adult should be medically evaluated. Always call your doctor if jaundice is present.

  • What to expect at your health care provider's office

    The health care provider will perform a physical examination. To help diagnose the cause of yellow skin, your health care provider will ask medical history questions, such as:

    • Is the inside of the mouth (mucous membranes) yellow?
    • Are the eyes yellow?
    • When did the jaundice start?
    • Has the jaundice occurred repeatedly?
    • What other symptoms are present?
    The following diagnostic tests may be performed:
  • Prevention

    Feed babies frequently and don't let them become dehydrated.

    With jaundice, the important thing to prevent is kernicterus -- toxic levels of bilirubin accumulating in the brain. Early identification and treatment of jaundice will usually prevent kernicterus, whatever the cause.

    Beyond this, jaundice is a symptom of other problems that have their own prevention strategies.

  • References

    American Academy of Pediatrics Subcommittee on Neonatal Hyperbilirubinemia. Neonatal jaundice and kernicterus. Pediatrics. 2001;108(3):763-765.

    Berk PD, Korenblat KM. Approach to the patient with jaundice or abnormal liver test results. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 150.

    Boamah L, Balistreri WF. Manifestations of liver disease. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 352.

    Moerschel SK. A practical approach to neonatal jaundice. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(9): 1255-1262.

    Moyer V, Freese DK, Whitington PF, Olson AD, Brewer F, Colletti RB, Heyman MB. Guideline for the evaluation of cholestatic jaundice in infants: recommendations of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2004;39(2):115-128.

    Piazza AJ, Stoll BJ. Digestive system disorders. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 102

    This article uses information by permission from Alan Greene, M.D., © Greene Ink, Inc.

Review Date: 5/8/2008

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on University Photo Christie Clinic on University
101 West University Avenue Champaign, IL 61820 Main Phone: (217) 366-1200
Billing Services: (217) 366-1382
Toll Free: (888) 391-0412
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on Windsor/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic on Windsor/Convenient Care
1801 West Windsor Road Champaign, IL 61822 (217) 366-8000
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic at Presence Covenant Photo Christie Clinic at Presence Covenant
1400 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 (217) 366-1200
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Rantoul Photo Christie Clinic in Rantoul
209 West Borman Drive Rantoul, IL 61866 (217) 892-9671
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Mahomet/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Mahomet/Convenient Care
1001 Commercial Drive Mahomet, IL 61853 (217) 586-6600
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Danville on Vermilion/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Danville on Vermilion/Convenient Care
3545 North Vermilion Street Danville, IL 61832 (217) 442-8611
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Tuscola Photo Christie Clinic in Tuscola
300 North Main Street Tuscola, IL 61953 (217) 253-9258
Christie Clinic CU Sleep Photo CU Sleep
1207 South Mattis Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 355-1684
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic Cancer Center Photo Christie Clinic Cancer Center
109 West University Avenue Champaign, IL 61820 (217) 366-5180
Christie Clinic Convenient Care in County Market (Kirby & Duncan) Photo Convenient Care in County Market (Kirby & Duncan)
2901 West Kirby Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 366-8130
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Urbana/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Urbana/Convenient Care
1710 East Windsor Road Urbana, IL 61802 (217) 344-9440
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Danville on Logan Photo Christie Clinic in Danville on Logan
800 North Logan Avenue Danville, IL 61832 (217) 431-8930
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on Fox Drive Photo Christie Clinic on Fox Drive
2110 Fox Drive, Suite B Champaign, IL 61820
Christie Clinic Kirby Medical Group Specialty Clinic in Monticello Photo Kirby Medical Group Specialty Clinic in Monticello
1109 A. North State Street Monticello, IL 61856 (217) 366-1304
Gibson Area Hospital
1120 N Melvin Gibson City, IL 60936 (217) 784-2240
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Mattoon Photo Christie Clinic in Mattoon
105 B Professional Plaza Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 345-3000
Christie Clinic Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System Photo Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System
1000 Health Center Drive Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 258-2588
Christie Clinic The Champaign SurgiCenter Photo The Champaign SurgiCenter
1702 S. Mattis Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 326-2030
Christie Clinic The Carle Foundation Hospital Photo The Carle Foundation Hospital
611 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 (217) 383-3311
Iroquois Memorial Hospital
200 E. Fairman Ave. Watseka, IL 60970 (815) 432-5841
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic at Savoy Photo Christie Clinic at Savoy
501 North Dunlap Avenue Savoy, IL 61874 Transformations: (217) 366-7460 Internal Medicine: (217) 366-5434 Ophthalmology: (217) 366-1250
Christie Clinic at 410 E. University
410 E. University Champaign, IL 61820
Christie Clinic on West Park Street
1405 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 217-366-1237
Christie Clinic in Monticello
107 West Main Street Monticello, IL 61856 217.762.3352