What is jaundice?

Jaundice is when your skin and eye whites go yellow because of a bilirubin overload in the body.

Bilirubin is a waste product from the breakdown of old red blood cells. Normally, bilirubin is processed in the liver, where it's mixed into bile. The bile goes from the liver to the digestive tract and comes out of the body in poo. When this normal process changes in some way, it can create a bilirubin overload.

Bilirubin overload most often happens when the liver is inflamed because of a viral infection so it can't process bilirubin properly. Viruses that commonly cause an inflamed liver include the Epstein Barr virus. Less common causes are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Bilirubin overload can also be caused by too many red blood cells being broken down, which can happen in a form of anaemia.

Biliary atresia is another cause of bilirubin overload. This is when the tiny tubes that carry bile from the liver to the digestive tract get blocked.

The causes of jaundice in older babies and children are different from the causes of jaundice in newborn babies. This article is about jaundice in older babies and children.

Jaundice symptoms

If your child has jaundice, you'll notice his skin turning yellowish. The whites of his eyes will be yellow too.

Your child might also have dark yellow wee and pale-coloured poo. His skin might be itchy.

Does your child need to see a doctor about jaundice?

Yes. Take your child to the GP if you're concerned she has symptoms of jaundice.

Tests for jaundice

Your doctor might want to do blood tests to check bilirubin levels in your child's blood and possibly urine tests as well. In some situations, your doctor might order other tests to check for viral infections. The doctor might also order an abdominal ultrasound.

Treatment for jaundice

The treatment of jaundice depends on how bad it is and what has caused it.

For example, if your child's jaundice is caused by a virus, treatment will focus on improving your child's viral symptoms and making sure he's comfortable.