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Jaundice is a symptom in the form of a yellow coloration of the mucous membranes, skin and conjunctiva, the white of the eye. Jaundice is caused by an abnormal accumulation of bilirubin, a substance secreted by the liver following the breakdown of red blood cells in the spleen. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment. The liver breaks down bilirubin, which then passes into the bile before being discharged into the intestine. Bilirubin is then degraded by the digestive organs and is eliminated in the stool: it is also the degradation of bilirubin that gives a brownish color to stool. Jaundice is a condition that can affect newborns, called in this context neonatal jaundice (see separate sheet). In adults, several reasons can be the cause of jaundice, mainly represented by diseases affecting the liver. Thus, some genetic or more frequently, hepatitis disease - presence of gallstones, tumors of the liver or pancreas - may cause jaundice.


Jaundice is a symptom in and of itself. It can affect the skin, mucous membranes (lining the inner walls of certain organs -oral or genital) and conjunctiva, which is the white of the eye. The latter location is often the first to appear, if not the only part visible, especially in individuals with dark skin.
Apart from this symptom, other clinical signs are frequently associated with jaundice and will guide the suspected diagnosis. Thus, among the most common:
  • The liver can increase volume: hepatomegaly;
  • Fever may be present;
  • lymph nodes may be "inflated";
  • abdominal pain is possible;
  • cutaneous signs may appear;
  • neurological signs may be affected.


Jaundice is rather evident since it is a symptom itself. A blood test may nonetheless help to distinguish it from other rare causes of skin color yellowing like hypothyroidism, a lack of hormones secreted by the thyroid gland. In the case of jaundice, blood bilirubin increases. Other examinations will investigate the cause of the jaundice, and blood tests will measure liver function, blood cells and blood proteins, while a liver ultrasound or a scanner may also be realized.


Jaundice is the result of an illness. It is therefore necessary to treat the cause once it is detected. The treatment will be adapted depending on whether it is hepatitis, gallstones or cancer.

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