What is jaundice?

“Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin; babies have it because they break down their newborn red cells to become adult cells,” says Anju Bhatia, MD, of Good Samaritan Hospital. Watch this video to learn more.

Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin, as well as the whites of the eyes and mucous membranes. It is a consequence of the accumulation of elevates levels of bile pigments and bilirubin is the blood. It is usually a sign of an abnormality or a disease process affecting the liver.

John A. Chabot
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes caused by an increase of bilirubin present in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia).
Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and eyes. It occurs from a build up of more than 3mg/dL bilirubin in the blood.
Jaundice is a common temporary condition among infants. About 60% of newborns develop it, usually within three days after birth. Jaundice is a condition caused by the natural process of red-cell breakdown and an increased level of bilirubin in the baby’s blood, turning the baby’s skin yellow. As the bilirubin level in the body rises, a yellow color can develop from the baby’s face down the torso to the legs. High levels of bilirubin can lead to a condition called kernicterus that results in neurological problems. Depending on the level of bilirubin in the baby’s blood, the baby may need phototherapy with exposure to special fluorescent lights to eliminate the bilirubin.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and eyes in newborns, usually within the first five days. It may be associated with breast feeding. (In older children, jaundice is quite rare and may be a sign of liver disease or a medicine toxicity.) Untreated jaundice can lead to nerve damage.
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There’s little doubt that parenting can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences you’ll ever have. But it can be plenty tough, too: Around the clock, you’re working to keep your...
Jaundice is a yellow coloring of the skin and whites of the eyes caused by increased levels of bilirubin.  Bilirubin is a breakdown product of red blood cells that is usually cleared from the body by the liver.  Anything that causes decreased liver function or increase in breakdown of red blood cells can result in jaundice.

As a pediatrician, newborn jaundice is the most common form of jaundice that we see.  This is caused by immaturity of the liver that leads to slower clearance of bilirubin from the body.  Also, inadequate fluids and calories in the first few days of life, especially in breastfed babies, increases bilirubin levels.

In older patients, there are three big concerns with jaundice.  First is infection which is called hepatitis.  Secondly, is cirrhosis which is often from drug or alcohol abuse. Finally, obstruction of the gall bladder from gall stones or tumor can lead to jaundice.
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Jaundice is yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, caused by too much bilirubin in the blood. While not a disease, jaundice can signal a liver or gallbladder problem. Newborns can develop jaundice, which is only temporary and goes away.

Jaundice is when the skin, or sometimes the whites of the eyes, take on a yellow hue. It can indicate problems with the liver or gallbladder, or be a symptom of another condition. If you have jaundice, you should speak with your doctor.

Continue Learning about Liver Disease Signs & Symptoms

When does jaundice develop?
Beth A. Schrope, MDBeth A. Schrope, MD
Jaundice occurs when bilirubin, a component of bile, builds up in your blood. Bilirubin is created...
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What are the symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis (PBC)?
Symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), formerly known as primary biliary cirrhosis, can some...
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How is liver disease diagnosed?
Univ. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family MedicineUniv. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family Medicine
Liver disease can be diagnosed through blood tests and imaging. Blood tests look at levels of certai...
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What causes yellowing of the skin and eyes in a person with jaundice?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
The most common cause of jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin, is a potentially serious liv...
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.