Jaundice Overview

Jaundice in Adults

Although it's harmless to infants, adult jaundice can be a symptom of one of many serious medical conditions. Several diseases that involve the liver can contribute to jaundice in adults, since the condition is due to the buildup of bilirubin, which a normal adult liver should be able to process without trouble.

The problem may be a breakdown or blockage in the process that normally expels bilirubin from the body, such as a bile duct obstruction caused by a tumor or gallstones [source: HealthSquare]. However, it can be a sign of a potentially deadly disease.

Cirrhosis of the liver is one illness that doctors can diagnose after an adult shows signs of jaundice. The condition can be caused by hepatitis C, a fatty liver, alcohol abuse or liver damage [source: WebMD]. In addition to jaundice, other symptoms of cirrhosis include loss of appetite, fatigue, bruises and fluid retention. In severe cases -- and if other treatments don't relieve symptoms -- a liver transplant may be necessary.

Those who have hepatitis A, B or C may show signs of jaundice after contracting one of the diseases. Hepatitis A, which you can get from contaminated food or water or through personal contact, can present itself as a flu-like sickness. The more serious hepatitis B, contracted through the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person, can become a chronic liver infection. Hepatitis C, which also can cause liver failure, may have no symptoms at all [source: Mayo Clinic]. Other serious medical conditions, like malaria or pancreatic cancer, also can cause jaundice in adults.

Read the next page to find out more about the symptoms of jaundice.