liver diseases

Jaundice in Adults: An Overview

Written by
Dr. Vasantha K S
and medically reviewed by Dr. Madathupalayam Madhankumar

Published on Jun 18, 2018 and last reviewed on Jul 19, 2019   -  2 min read



Jaundice in adults can result from alcoholism, liver cancer, hepatitis, and many other conditions. Read the article to know more.

Jaundice in Adults: An Overview

Jaundice is the yellowish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes which is a symptom caused by an underlying disease where there is an increase in the levels of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a breakdown byproduct.

Normally, the liver excretes the bilirubin through the bile. Bilirubin is a by-product of the breakdown of RBCs (red blood cells). It releases hemoglobin molecule during this process. The heme is then converted to bilirubin, which is then excreted by the liver by filtering the blood.


There can be a problem in any of the stages in the multi-step process. Depending on the site of a problem, there are three types of jaundice.

- Prehepatic (hemolytic jaundice).

- Hepatic (hepatocellular jaundice).

- Post-hepatic (obstructive jaundice).

Pre-hepatic (hemolytic jaundice)

This type of jaundice is seen in conditions that increase the rate of hemolysis (the process of destruction of red blood cells). The common conditions include malaria, sickle cell anemia, spherocytosis, and thalassemia.

Hepatic (hepatocellular jaundice)

This type of jaundice results when the liver is damaged or impaired to filter out bilirubin from the blood. It is commonly seen in liver cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, leptospirosis, and liver cancer.

Post-hepatic (obstructive jaundice)

When the bile ducts are blocked, the bilirubin cannot be adequately drained, which results in this type of jaundice. Gallstones, pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, bile duct cancer, and biliary atresia are some conditions that can cause this.


  • Yellow tinge of skin and mucous membrane is the most distinct symptom of jaundice.
  • Pale-colored stools.
  • Dark yellow urine.
  • Itching of skin.

Risk Factors

  1. Thalassemia.
  2. Alcoholism.
  3. Pancreatitis.
  4. Cirrhosis.
  5. Viral hepatitis.
  6. Liver cancer.

Diagnostic Tests

  • Complete blood count (CBC).
  • Liver function tests.
  • Urine test.
  • Bilirubin test.
  • Hepatitis panel.
  • MRI/CT.
  • Ultrasound of liver.
  • Biopsy.


The treatment depends on the condition that is causing the yellow discoloration.

In some cases, supportive care at home with watching is all that is needed. Whereas, in case of anemia, blood transfusion is the protocol. In case of infectious reasons, antibiotics will be prescribed. In obstructive jaundice, a surgery will be necessary.

So, treatment varies depending on the cause and it is advisable to consult your doctor in case you notice such a discoloration.

For more information consult a jaundice specialist online -->

Frequently Asked Questions


What Causes Jaundice In Adults?

Jaundice is caused when the liver is unable to breakdown old red blood cells properly and metabolize bilirubin, which is a byproduct. Jaundice is a symptom seen in many conditions like alcoholism, liver cancer, thalassemia, cirrhosis of the liver, gallstones, hepatitis, pancreatic cancer, sickle cell anemia, yellow fever, Paracetamol overdose, and Rh factor incompatibility.


How To Get Rid Of Jaundice In Adults?

As jaundice is a symptom and not a disease, treating the cause will get rid of jaundice also.


How Long Does Jaundice Last In Adults?

Once the treatment for the cause is started, the bilirubin level goes down, and the liver starts functioning normally. Depending on the cause and severity, jaundice can take from a few weeks to several days to get better.


Is Jaundice In Adults Serious?

Some conditions that result in jaundice like liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, etc., are serious and can be life-threatening. So, seeking immediate medical help to find the cause of jaundice is crucial.


What Level Of Jaundice Is Dangerous?

Bilirubin levels higher than 20 to 25 mg/dL can be dangerous. Excess bilirubin in the blood can be neurotoxic and can damage the brain. This type of brain damage that results from high bilirubin in the blood is called kernicterus.


What Is The Fastest Way To Cure Jaundice?

Things that can accelerate treatment for jaundice are drinking a lot of water, eating fruits like papaya and mango, as they are rich in digestive enzymes, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, consuming a low-fat and high-fiber diet.


Can Dehydration Cause Jaundice?

Patients with Gilbert syndrome, which is a genetic disorder of the liver, have elevated levels of bilirubin because they lack the enzyme required to eliminate bilirubin from the body. In such patients, symptoms of jaundice are seen with triggers like dehydration, stress, alcoholism, and exertion.


Is Lemon Water Good For Jaundice?

Lemon water is known to reduce inflammation and unblock the bile ducts, thus protects the liver and improves jaundice.


How can jaundice be Prevented?

It is not always possible to prevent jaundice, as some conditions that cause it are genetic or of unknown cause. As it is mainly caused by liver damage, maintaining liver health is crucial. It is important to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and to limit the intake of alcohol.


What diet to follow during Jaundice?

You should drink a lot of water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, herbal tea, nuts, lean proteins, and legumes. You should avoid consuming alcohol, canned food, refined carbohydrates, red meat, saturated and trans fats.

Last reviewed at:
19 Jul 2019  -  2 min read




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