May also be called: Icterus

Jaundice (JON-diss) refers to the yellow color of the skin and whites of the eyes caused by excess bilirubin in the blood.

More to Know

Bilirubin is produced by the normal breakdown of red blood cells (RBCs). Ordinarily, bilirubin passes through the liver and is discharged as bile in the intestines. Jaundice occurs when bilirubin builds up faster than the liver can break it down and pass it from the body. This can happen if too many RBCs are breaking down and going to the liver, if the liver is damaged or blocked, or if bilirubin doesn't pass through the digestive tract properly.

Jaundice, which isn't painful, can be caused by many things (such as infections and blood disorders) or be a sign of a problem with the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.

High levels of bilirubin can lead to serious complications if they go untreated for too long. Jaundice is most common among newborn babies and people with liver infections, gallstones, or substance abuse issues.

Keep in Mind

All cases of jaundice should be evaluated by a doctor. Treatment will depend on its cause — often, particularly with newborns, the cause is something harmless and the jaundice will clear up on its own.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

Back to Articles


Related Articles

Looking at Your Newborn: What's Normal

When you first meet your newborn, you may be surprised by what you see. Here's what to expect.

Read More

Blood Test: Bilirubin

Doctors may order bilirubin blood tests for infants or older kids if they see signs of the skin taking on the yellow discoloration known as jaundice.

Read More

Jaundice in Newborns

Jaundice is when a baby has yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Most types of jaundice go away on their own.

Read More

When Your Baby’s Born Premature

Premature infants, known as preemies, come into the world earlier than full-term infants. They have many special needs that make their care different from other babies.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

Search our entire site.