Jaundice is a condition in which the skin, sclera (whites of the eyes) and mucous membranes turn yellow. This yellow color is caused by a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment. Bile is fluid secreted by the liver. Bilirubin is formed from the breakdown of red blood cells.
Jaundice can be caused by a problem in any of the three phases in bilirubin production.
Before the production of bilirubin, you may have what’s called unconjugated jaundice due to increased levels of bilirubin caused by:
- Reabsorption of a large hematoma (a collection of clotted or partially clotted blood under the skin).
- Hemolytic anemias (blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan is over).
During production of bilirubin, jaundice can be caused by:
- Viruses, including Hepatitis A, chronic Hepatitis B and C, and Epstein-Barr virus infection (infectious mononucleosis).
- Autoimmune disorders.
- Rare genetic metabolic defects.
- Medicines, including acetaminophen toxicity, penicillins, oral contraceptives, chlorpromazine (Thorazine®) and estrogenic or anabolic steroids.
After bilirubin is produced, jaundice may be caused by obstruction (blockage) of the bile ducts from:
- Inflammation (swelling) of the gallbladder.
- Gallbladder cancer.
- Pancreatic tumor.