What It Really Means When Your Skin Turns Yellow

Yellowing skin, or jaundice, can be the result of a number of underlying health conditions (via Healthline). The discoloration is caused by a buildup in the body of a substance known as bilirubin, a yellow or orange pigment produced when blood passes through the liver. With a properly functioning liver, the body is able to naturally dispose of bilirubin and dead red blood cells. Therefore, yellowing skin is usually a sign that there is something wrong with the liver. It can also signal a problem with the pancreas or gallbladder.

Babies can also be born with jaundice, a condition known as infant jaundice (via Mayo Clinic). The condition is common, especially in premature babies or sometimes babies who are breast-fed. Infant jaundice usually goes away on its own with no need for treatment. In rare cases, a newborn with severe jaundice may need a blood transfusion. Causes of jaundice in adults include hepatitis, alcohol-related liver disease, blocked bile ducts, pancreatic cancer, and the use of certain medications like birth control or some pain relievers (via WebMD).

What to do if you have jaundice

Symptoms of jaundice include yellowing of the skin and eyes, yellowing of the inside of the mouth, itchiness, urine that's dark in color, or stool that is pale or gray in color (via Mount Sinai). If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare provider right away. A doctor will perform a physical exam and a number of tests to determine the cause. These may include a bilirubin blood test, a hepatitis virus panel, liver function tests, complete blood count, CT scan, ultrasound, and liver biopsy.

Treatment for jaundice depends on the cause. Infant jaundice usually goes away within one to two weeks, according to the American Liver Foundation. Jaundice itself in adults usually isn't treated, but rather the cause (via WebMD). In people with acute viral hepatitis, skin will gradually turn back to a normal color as the liver heals. If the underlying cause of jaundice is a blocked bile duct, a surgical procedure may be required.