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10 Causes of Jaundice in Adults

Jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the skin, sclera (whites of the eyes), and mucous membranes by bilirubin. The word “jaundice” is derived from the French word jaune, which means yellow. Bilirubin is a yellow-orange pigment found in bile, a fluid made by the liver. Bilirubin is produced when the liver breaks down old red blood cells. Bilirubin circulates in the blood in two forms—indirect (or unconjugated) and direct (or conjugated). Jaundice usually occurs when blood levels of bilirubin reach greater than 2.5 to 3-mg/dL. Jaundice in adults may be caused by a variety of either harmless or life-threatening disorders.

Ten causes of jaundice in adults are…


1. Hemolytic Anemia

Hemolytic anemia is a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan is concluded. The lifespan of a red blood cell is approximately 120-days. The term “anemia” usually refers to decreased numbers of red blood cells. It may also refer to low levels of hemoglobin, a protein allowing red blood cells to carry oxygen. Hemolytic anemia is characterized by increased levels of indirect bilirubin in the bloodstream.

The causes of hemolytic anemia vary and may be inherited or acquired. Inherited causes of hemolytic anemia include hereditary disorders such as glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency (the most common enzyme deficiency in humans), hereditary spherocytosis (a defect in red blood cell membrane proteins), and sickle cell disease (abnormal hemoglobin in red blood cells). Acquired hemolytic anemia may be caused by drugs such as acetaminophen, penicillin, and oral contraceptives; infections such as malaria; and autoimmune disorders such as lupus.

Red Blood Cells

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