Common GI Symptoms

Common GI Symptoms > Jaundice


What is jaundice?

Jaundice is a condition that causes your skin or the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. It happens when you have too much of a substance called “bilirubin” in your blood.

What causes jaundice? 

Jaundice is usually caused by problems with your liver.

Problems with the biliary tract or pancreas can also cause jaundice. Rarely, problems with your red blood cells can cause jaundice.

Problems with the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas can be caused by:

  • Small stones that form inside the gallbladder, called gallstones.
  • Infections
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Damage from medicines, herbal supplements, or illegal drugs
  • Cancer

You can also get jaundice after surgery, if you have certain blood disorders, or if you have a condition called Gilbert syndrome.

Gilbert syndrome is a common, harmless condition that can run in families. People with this syndrome sometimes get jaundice when they are under stress, take certain medicines, or have an infection. Women with Gilbert syndrome might get jaundice around the time of their period.

Is there a test for jaundice? 

Yes. Your doctor will give you a blood test to measure the level of bilirubin in your blood. Your doctor might also give you tests to see what’s causing your jaundice.


Will I need tests?

Your doctor or nurse will decide which tests you should have based on your age, other symptoms, and individual situation.
Tests doctors use to find the cause of jaundice might include:

  • Blood tests
  • An ultrasound – This test uses sound waves to take pictures of the organs inside your belly.
  • A CT scan – This is a special kind of X-ray.
  • An MRCP – This is an MRI of the liver, bile ducts and the pancreas.
  • A biopsy – For this test, a doctor takes a small sample of tissue from your liver. Then another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope.

Should I see my doctor?  

Yes. See your doctor if you are concerned about the pain, particularly if it is not getting better. Don’t put it off if you are worried!

How is jaundice treated?

Treatments depend on the cause of the Jaundice. Your doctor or nurse might recommend that you:

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid certain medicines – Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about the medicines you take and tell you which ones to avoid.

If gallstones caused your jaundice, you might also need to have surgery to remove your gallbladder. Sometimes gallstones in the bile ducts might need a scope procedure called an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde pancreaticography) to have the stones removed.

If you have Gilbert syndrome, you will not need to do anything extra to treat your jaundice. Gilbert syndrome does not cause long-term problems on its own.