Jaundice in Adults

  • Medical Author:
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)
    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Dr. Anand received MBBS degree from Medical College Amritsar, University of Punjab. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at the Postgraduate Institute of medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India. He was trained in the field of Gastroenterology and obtained the DPhil degree. Dr. Anand is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

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What are the risk factors for jaundice in adults?

The risk factors for developing jaundice vary based upon the underlying cause. Certain individuals with hereditary conditions (for example, thalassemia or hereditary spherocytosis) are at an increased risk of developing jaundice from hemolysis. Individuals who consume alcohol heavily are at an increased risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis, pancreatitis, and cirrhosis leading to jaundice. People who are at an increased risk of exposure to the different types of viral hepatitis (for example, hepatitis B and hepatitis C) are also at risk of developing jaundice at the time of infection or subsequently if liver disease occurs or if liver cancer develops later.

How is jaundice in adults diagnosed?

The presence of jaundice requires a comprehensive medical evaluation to determine the cause. Initially, your health care professional will take a detailed history of your illness and perform a physical exam, which can sometimes determine the cause of the jaundice. Initial blood testing will also be undertaken, with special attention being given to your liver function tests, complete blood count (CBC), electrolyte panel and lipase levels. Blood testing for exposure to hepatitis may also be ordered. Additional blood testing may be ordered based on the initial results. A urinalysis will likely also be ordered.

Depending on the results of initial blood tests, further studies may be needed to help diagnose the underlying disease process. In certain cases, imaging studies will need to be obtained in order to evaluate for any abnormalities generally of the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.These imaging studies may include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan).

Occasionally, individuals will need further invasive testing to determine the cause of the jaundice. Procedures that may be ordered include endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) or a liver biopsy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/4/2015
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