Jaundice: causes, symptoms and treatment

jaundice in newborn

Jaundice is a yellowish or greenish discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes and the whites of the eyes due to increased amounts of bilirubin. Its not a disease but a symptom of an underlying illnesses.

Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is created by the breakdown of dead red blood cells in the liver. Normally, the liver gets rid of bilirubin along with old red blood cells.

Causes of jaundice

Jaundice can be caused by a problem in any of the three phases in bilirubin production. Due to this, it is helpful to understand the different causes such as:

Firstly, before bile is made in the liver (Pre-hepatic)

To begin with, it is caused by rapid increase in the breakdown and destruction of the red blood cells. Due to this, the liver’s loses its ability to adequately remove the increased levels of bilirubin from the blood. Examples of conditions with increased breakdown of red blood cells include conditions such as:

  • malaria
  • sickle cell crisis
  • thalassemia
  • glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD)
  • drugs or other toxins
  • autoimmune disorders.

Secondly, the problem arises within the liver (Hepatic)

Additionally, it is caused by the liver’s inability to properly breakdown and remove bilirubin. Examples include conditions such as:

  • hepatitis (commonly viral or alcohol related),
  • cirrhosis,
  • drugs or other toxins
  • cancer.

Lastly, after bile has been made in the liver (Post-hepatic)

Furthermore, it is caused by conditions which block the normal removal of bilirubin in the form of bile from the liver into the intestines.

Causes include conditions such as:

  • gallstones in the bile ducts
  • cancer
  • strictures of the bile ducts
  • congenital malformations
  • pancreatitis
  • parasites
  • pregnancy
  • newborn jaundice.

Symptoms of jaundice

Common signs and symptoms in most cases includes:

  • yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and the whites of the eyes,
  • light-colored stools,
  • dark-colored urine
  • itching of the skin
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • abdominal pain,
  • fever,
  • weakness,
  • loss of appetite,
  • headache,
  • confusion,
  • swelling of the legs and abdomen

Tests and diagnosis

In most cases, test includes the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine testing
  • Liver function test
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Liver biopsy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging


In most cases, treatment depends on the underlying cause. Medical treatment is mostly with intravenous fluids, medications, antibiotics, or blood transfusions.

The objectives of home remedies include symptomatic relief and various measures such as:

  • Maintaining adequate hydration such as drinking fluids.
  • Take medications only as instructed and prescribed by a health care practitioner.
  • Avoid medications, herbs, or supplements which only prescribed by your doctor
  • Avoid or stop drinking alcohol


Practicing preventive measures such as:

  • Avoid heavy alcohol use
  • Prevent malaria infections.
  • Avoid high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use or unprotected intercourse .
  • Drink good portable water and maintain good hygiene.
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