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Jaundice (cont.)

What Are Symptoms and Signs of Jaundice?

Jaundice is a sign of an underlying disease process. .

Common signs and symptoms seen in individuals with jaundice include:

  • yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and the whites of the eyes,
  • light-colored stools,
  • dark-colored urine, and
  • itching of the skin.

The underlying disease process may result in additional signs and symptoms. These may include:

In newborns, as the bilirubin level rises, jaundice will typically progress from the head to the trunk, and then to the hands and feet. Additional signs and symptoms that may be seen in the newborn include:

  • poor feeding,
  • lethargy,
  • changes in muscle tone,
  • high-pitched crying, and
  • seizures.

When to Seek Medical Care for Jaundice

Call a health care practitioner if you or your baby develops jaundice. Jaundice may be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition.

If you are unable to reach and be seen by your health care practitioner in a timely manner, go to the emergency department for further evaluation.

Questions to Ask the Doctor About Jaundice

  1. What is the cause of my jaundice? How can I learn more about it?
  2. Will I require any blood tests or imaging studies?
  3. What is the likely course of this illness? What is the long-term outlook?
  4. What are my treatment options? Will I require surgery or medications? Are there any medications I should avoid?
  5. If my symptoms worsen while at home, what should I do? When do I need to call you? When do I need to go to the emergency department?

Exams and Tests for Jaundice

The health care pracitioner will need to take a detailed history of the patient's illness, and he or she will also be examined to see if there are any findings that indicate the cause of the patient's jaundice. However, additional testing is usually required to clearly determine the underlying cause of jaundice. The following tests and imaging studies may be obtained:

Blood tests

These may initially include a complete blood count (CBC), liver function tests (including a bilirubin level), lipase/amylase level to detect inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), and an electrolytes panel. In women, a pregnancy test may be obtained. Additional blood tests may be required depending upon the initial results and the history provided to the practitioner.


Urinalysis is an analysis of the urine and is a very useful test in the diagnosis of screening many diseases.

Imaging Studies

  • Ultrasound: This is a safe, painless imaging study that uses sound waves to examine the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. It is very useful for detecting gallstones and dilated bile ducts. It can also detect abnormalities of the liver and the pancreas.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan: ACT scan is imaging study similar to an X-ray that provides more details of all the abdominal organs. Though not as good as ultrasound at detecting gallstones, it can identify various other abnormalities of the liver, pancreas, and other abdominal organs as well.
  • Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan): A HIDA scan is an imaging study that uses a radioactive substance to evaluate the gallbladder and the bile ducts.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):MRI is an imaging study that uses a magnetic field to examine the organs of the abdomen. It can be useful for detailed imaging of the bile ducts.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP):ERCP is a procedure that involves the introduction of an endoscope (a tube with a camera at the end) through the mouth and into thesmall intestine. A dye is then injected into the bile ducts while X-rays are taken. It can be useful for identifying stones, tumors, or narrowing of the bile ducts.
Liver Biopsy
  • In this procedure, a needle is inserted into the liver after a local anesthetic has been administered. Often ultrasound will be used to guide placement of the needle. The small sample of liver tissue which is obtained is sent to a laboratory for examination by a pathologist (a physician who specializes in diagnosis of tissue samples). Among other things, a liver biopsy can be useful for diagnosing inflammation of the liver, cirrhosis, and cancer.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/12/2016
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