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What is jaundice?

Jaundice, also called icterus, causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. The condition is caused by too much bilirubin, a yellow chemical in hemoglobin (the substance that carries oxygen in your red blood cells). As red blood cells break down, the body builds new cells to replace them. The old ones are processed by the liver, but if the liver cannot handle the blood cells as they break down, bilirubin builds up in the body.

Many healthy babies have some jaundice during the first week of life. It usually goes away, though jaundice can happen at any age and may be a sign of a problem. Other causes of jaundice include:

  • Blood diseases
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Liver diseases like hepatitis or cirrhosis
  • Blockage of bile ducts
  • Infections
  • Medicines


  • Yellow skin
  • Yellow sclera (the white part of the eyes)


Physical examination will show jaundice and possibly liver swelling. Specific tests vary but may include liver function tests to determine how well the liver is working.


All jaundice-associated conditions require medical diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, the only treatment needed may be observation, but always consult with your health care provider.

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