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Jaundice - yellow skin

Alternative names

Yellow skin and eyes; Skin - yellow; Icterus; Eyes - yellow; Jaundice


Jaundice is a yellow color in the skin, the mucous membranes, or the eyes. The yellow pigment is from bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells.


If you've ever had a bruise, you may have noticed that the skin went through a series of color changes as it healed. When you saw yellow in the bruise, you were seeing bilirubin.

Common Causes

Causes in children include:

  • newborn jaundice (physiologic jaundice)
  • breastfeeding jaundice
  • breast milk jaundice
  • viral hepatitis ( hepatitis A , hepatitis B , hepatitis C , hepatitis D , and hepatitis E)
  • hemolytic anemia
  • disorders present since birth that cause problems processing bilirubin ( Gilbert's syndrome , Dubin-Johnson syndrome , Rotor's syndrome, or Crigler-Najjar syndromes)
  • biliary atresia
  • autoimmune hepatitis
  • malaria

Breastfeeding jaundice may occur in the first week of life in more than 1 in 10 breastfed infants. The cause is thought to be inadequate milk intake, leading to dehydration or low caloric intake. It is a type of physiologic or exaggerated physiologic jaundice.

Breast milk jaundice is far less common and occurs in about 1 in 200 babies. Here the jaundice isn't usually visible until the baby is a week old. It often reaches its peak during the second or third week. Breast milk jaundice can be caused by substances in mom's milk that decrease the infant's liver's ability to deal with bilirubin. Breast milk jaundice rarely causes any problems, whether it is treated or not. It is usually not a reason to stop nursing.

Home Care

The cause of jaundice must be determined before treatment can be given. Follow prescribed therapy to treat the underlying cause.

Call your health care provider if

ALL jaundice in an infant, child, or adult should be medically evaluated. ALWAYS call your doctor if jaundice is present.

The health care provider will perform a physical examination. To help diagnose the cause of yellow skin, your health care provider will ask medical history questions, such as:

  • Is the inside of the mouth (mucous membranes) yellow?
  • Are the eyes yellow?
  • When did the jaundice start?
  • Has the jaundice occurred repeatedly?
  • What other symptoms are present?
The following diagnostic tests may be performed:
  • blood serum bilirubin
  • liver function tests and cholesterol
  • prothrombin time
  • complete blood count
  • ultrasound of the abdomen
  • liver biopsy
  • urine and fecal urobilinogen


Feed babies frequently and don't let them become dehydrated.

Update Date: 11/26/2003

Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Stanford School of Medicine; Lucile Packard Children's Hospital; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT