Symptoms and Treatment of Jaundice

Why Jaundice Is More Than Just Discolored Skin

Jaundice is when a buildup of bilirubin in the blood causes the skin, mucous membranes, and the white part of the eyes to appear yellowish. Bilirubin is a reddish-yellow substance produced when red blood cells break down. It is excreted through the liver in the bile and then out of the body in the stool.

Jaundice itself is not a dangerous condition, but rather is a sign of a more serious condition or disease. Jaundice should be investigated for its underlying cause. If you are experiencing jaundice, it will need attention from a physician. The condition that is causing jaundice will need treatment, it is not something that will go away on its own.

Jaundice eye close up
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Jaundice Symptoms

Besides the yellow color seen in the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, other symptoms of jaundice may include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Change in urine and stool color (urine may be pale or yellow-orange, stool may be pale)
  • Fatigue


The buildup of bilirubin can be caused by an abnormally high number of red blood cells breaking down, gallstones, or liver disease (such as hepatitis or cirrhosis). Jaundice sometimes affects newborns ("newborn jaundice") because their livers are too immature to process the bilirubin in their bodies.


In some cases, jaundice might be the result of a known condition. For instance, if a person with liver disease develops jaundice, it's probably a result of the problems with the liver. It could mean, however, that treatment for the liver disease is not as effective as it should be, or that something else is going on.

If there isn't any obvious cause for jaundice, a physician might order a series of tests to figure out what is causing it. Some of these tests can include:

Lab tests on blood or urine:

Imaging tests:

In some cases, you may need a liver biopsy.


Jaundice is not really a condition on its own but is a sign of another problem. so it is managed by treating the disease that is causing the buildup of bilirubin.

For a virus that will resolve on its own, jaundice may not require any special treatment, because the body will clear the bilirubin and the virus on its own. For more serious conditions, other treatments might be needed to help the liver to manage the bilirubin.

Here's how some of the conditions that cause jaundice might be treated:

  • Alcohol-related cirrhosis or hepatitis: If alcoholic beverages are the cause of liver disease, stopping drinking is going to be crucial to resolving jaundice.
  • Anemia: If hemolytic anemia, the lack of red blood cells caused by increased desruction, is the cause of jaundice, the treatment might include a blood transfusion.
  • Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is the end-stage of chronic liver disease and has many different causes. Treating jaundice from cirrhosis will depend on the type of liver disease present, but could include the use of corticosteroids or diuretics.
  • Drug toxicities: In the case of a drug causing harm to the liver, the drug will need to be stopped (this includes prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, and illegal drugs). Another medication might need to be given to counteract the overdose.
  • Gallstones: Gallstones that are resulting in jaundice might require treatment, which is typically the removal of the gallbladder.
  • Liver cancer: Cancer of the liver will require treatment from a specialist and may include radiation and chemotherapy, as well as other medications for supportive therapy.
  • Newborn jaundice: Newborn jaundice is common, and will often resolve on its own without any treatment. Some healthcare providers might recommend that newborns get some sunlight exposure to increase vitamin D production and clear the bilirubin. In other cases, a newborn might be given treatment in the hospital using special lights that can help resolve jaundice.
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). This liver disease is associated with ulcerative colitis. Treatment is largely to manage symptoms, such as antibiotics and cholestyramine or diphenhydramine for itching. Surgery might be needed to open the bile ducts and place a stent to keep them open. A liver transplant is done in severe cases.
12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.