Jaundice Overview

Premature baby in intensive care unit,UV light treatment of jaundice. See more pictures of skin problems.
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Donovan made being "mellow yellow" sound lovely in his 1966 classic tune of the same name, but literally turning yellow from jaundice isn't nice at all.

Although it isn't technically a disease, jaundice is a medical condition widely known for its ability to turn the skin and eyes yellow. This coloring is caused by an excess of the pigment bilirubin, which is created by the breakdown of old red blood cells.

Both infants and adults can get jaundice, and the condition means very different things for each group. For example, jaundice is quite common in infants, especially in premature babies. For newborns, the telltale yellow skin isn't serious; in fact, it usually means that their livers aren't yet strong enough to properly remove bilirubin from the blood [source: Mayo Clinic].

For adults, however, it could be a sign of liver disease, hepatitis, pancreatic cancer, malaria or other serious illnesses. These underlying causes often require immediate medical treatment. Because jaundice can be triggered by so many diseases, you should always seek a doctor's advice if you believe you have the condition [source: Kaneshiro].

Infants with mild jaundice often don't require treatment, as the condition may disappear in two to three weeks. In more severe cases, light therapy, immunoglobulin transfusion or blood transfusion may be necessary [source: Mayo Clinic].

Treatment for adults varies on a case-by-case basis, since several different diseases can cause jaundice. A doctor normally will run several tests to determine the exact cause of the condition. These may include testing the amount of bilirubin in the blood; analyzing the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets present in the blood; testing the blood's clotting ability; performing an abdominal ultrasound and completing a liver biopsy [source: WebMD]. Results of these tests can help pinpoint the cause of jaundice, which is frequently a symptom of more serious illnesses in adults.

To read about how jaundice affects infants, visit the next page.