What are the causes of jaundice

Jaundice: causes, symptoms & prognosis


The causes of jaundice are differentiated according to the location of their development:

  • Cholestatic (occlusive) jaundice: A mechanical obstacle, usually gallstones, interferes with the drainage of the bile in the draining biliary tract. Often biliary colic or inflammation are the result. For example, a tumor can also cause the biliary tract to narrow. However, the disturbance of the bile flow can also have other causes. The obstacle can be in the liver cells up to the point where the main bile duct joins the duodenum.
  • Hepatic (hepatocellular) jaundice: Inflammation of the liver from hepatitis viruses or poisoning and medication can be associated with jaundice. The damaged liver cells can excrete fewer bile acids, which are then present in higher concentrations in the blood. Patients complain of fatigue and joint pain. Chronic diseases of the liver, such as liver shrinkage (liver cirrhosis), can lead to insufficient functional liver tissue being left to process all of the bilirubin, which also leads to jaundice.
  • Haemolytic jaundice: The cause lies in the excessive breakdown of red blood cells, caused by infections, excessive reactions of the immune system or malformations of the red blood cells. The resulting bilirubin in too large quantities cannot be completely broken down.

After all, the bilirubin value is slightly increased in around 5% of the population due to a genetic defect in the uptake of bilirubin into the liver cells, which causes the skin to regularly turn yellow (Gilbert syndrome). This type of jaundice is harmless and does not need treatment unless there are other physical abnormalities.

Signs & Symptoms

The rise in bilirubin is noticeable through a yellowish discoloration of the skin, initially the conjunctiva in the eyes. In addition, the urine can turn dark brown (beer brown), while the stool can turn light to white. It can also be accompanied by excruciating itching.

Forecast & course

The prognosis and course of jaundice depend on whether the underlying disease that causes it can be treated with a specific therapy. This should be discussed with the attending physician.