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Skin That Looks Yellow (Jaundice)

Jaundice occurs when levels of a yellow-brown pigment called bilirubin build up in the blood and skin. Bilirubin, which is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells, is normally eliminated by the liver in bile (a fluid that helps the body digest fats). Too much bilirubin can cause the skin and eyes to look yellow.

Bilirubin can build up because of rapid destruction of red blood cells, liver diseases (such as hepatitis), blockage of the bile ducts leading from the gallbladder to the small intestine, or other problems. Bilirubin can be measured in the blood. Your bilirubin level provides information about how well your liver is working.

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Other symptoms of high bilirubin include:

  • Dark urine.
  • Light-colored or whitish stools.
  • Itching.

The skin, eyes, urine, and stools will usually return to their normal color as the jaundice gets better.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised April 27, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 27, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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