Yellow skin is most commonly caused by a condition called jaundice , which occurs when the level of bilirubin in the blood is high. Bilirubin is a yellowish compound that forms when old or damaged red blood cells are destroyed. Bilirubin build-up is also known as hyperbilirubinemia and causes yellowing of the skin, the whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes.
Jaundice occurs when the body cannot process bilirubin, which is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells. Bilirubin generally travels through the bloodstream to the liver, where it binds with bile, and through the bile ducts to the digestive tract, where it is excreted.
Bilirubin is usually excreted in the stool and a small amount is excreted in the urine. When there is a problem with this process, bilirubin builds up in the blood and is deposited on the skin. Because bilirubin is brownish-yellow in color, high levels of bilirubin cause yellow skin.
There are several possible causes of jaundice, and your healthcare professional can help you determine what is causing your skin to turn yellow.
Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) causes liver damage, which prevents bilirubin from being effectively removed from the bloodstream.
Hepatitis can be caused by viruses and non-viral causes. Hepatitis A is a foodborne illness that causes food poisoning and usually goes away on its own. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are viruses that are transmitted through blood and body fluids. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to long-term liver damage.
Bile duct obstruction
Once bilirubin binds to bile, it must flow through the bile ducts into the pancreas and then into the small intestine and be excreted from the body. However, if the bile duct is blocked, the bilirubin is not removed and can build up, leading to jaundice.
A common cause of bile duct obstruction is gallstones . Gallstones, also known as cholelithiasis, form when the bile in the liver hardens. This can be the result of too much cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile. Gallstones can also be caused by improper emptying of the gallbladder. When gallstones form, they can enter the bile duct and cause hyperbilirubinemia.
Side effects of medications
Certain medications, especially if taken more than prescribed, can damage the liver and lead to jaundice. The most common medications that can cause jaundice include:
The most common cause of yellowing of the skin in newborns is physiological jaundice. Almost all newborns suffer from this type of jaundice to one degree or another in the first days of life. This is because newborns have a higher rate of red blood cell breakdown, leading to increased levels of bilirubin in the blood. They also have an immature liver that cannot yet process all the excess bilirubin. Physiological jaundice in newborns usually resolves within a week and does not require treatment.
Some newborns also experience lactation jaundice, also known as insufficient intake jaundice, which occurs when they do not get enough breast milk. When the breast milk has not yet arrived, the newborn will receive less nutrients and therefore will have fewer bowel movements. This can lead to increased reabsorption of bilirubin in the intestine and its accumulation .
Yellow skin can also be caused by carotenemia.
Carotenemia is a condition that occurs when you eat too many carotene-rich foods, such as carrots, papaya, mangoes, apricots, cantaloupe, asparagus, beets, and cabbage. This results in a yellowish orange skin color. An important difference to note here is that carotenemia produces yellow skin, not yellow sclera (the whites of the eyes) as in jaundice .
Rare genetic diseases can cause hyperbilirubinemia, also called bilirubin metabolism disorder, and yellowing of the skin.
Gilbert's syndrome is caused by changes in the UGT1A1 gene and affects 3% to 7% of Americans. This disease causes an increase in the amount of bilirubin in the blood. Elevated bilirubin levels in this condition are usually mild and do not cause jaundice. Most cases are diagnosed during adolescence, and many people with Gilbert's syndrome never show any symptoms. Elevated bilirubin levels can occur during physical activity, such as fasting or vigorous exercise .
Crigler-Najjar syndrome, also known as hereditary unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia, is much more serious and less common than Gilbert's syndrome. It is caused by mutations in UGT1A1. gene and affects less than 1 in 1 million newborns worldwide. This syndrome is characterized by dangerously high levels of bilirubin in the blood.
Crigler-Najar syndrome is divided into two types. Type 1 is the most serious and can lead to kernicterus, a life-threatening condition that occurs when toxic amounts of bilirubin build up in the brain. Type 2 is less serious, and affected people are less likely to develop kernicterus.
Newborn jaundice and genetic diseases
While most cases of neonatal jaundice are short-lived and go away on their own, others may indicate a more serious condition. An immune disorder such as Rh incompatibility can cause the baby's red blood cells to break down too quickly.
Genetic disorders that cause red blood cell breakdown include glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency ( G6PD deficiency ) and alpha thalassemia . Jaundice can also occur in newborns with cystic fibrosis due to blocked bile ducts.
Hyperbilirubinemia can also be associated with heart disease. A 2011 study found that people with congenital heart defects (CHD) have a significantly higher risk of developing gallstones. This puts people with coronary heart disease at higher risk of developing jaundice if gallstones lodge in the gallbladder. bile ducts and prevent the outflow and excretion of bilirubin.
Lifestyle risk factors
Alcohol can damage the liver and cause hyperbilirubinemia. Jaundice can be a sign of pancreatitis , an inflammation of the pancreas. This is most often caused by gallstones or alcohol use. Alcohol is also one of the most common causes of hepatitis.
Drinking alcohol can affect the way our bodies secrete and excrete bile and can lead to gallstones, fatty liver , and cirrhosis . Fatty liver disease is characterized by fatty deposits in the liver and can be caused by alcohol or obesity. Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by chronic damage that can result from chronic alcohol use .
Vitamin A excess
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for healthy eyes, skin, bones, and the immune system. However, in high doses, it can be toxic and cause liver damage. High doses of vitamin A can cause inflammation and scarring of the liver, preventing the body from eliminating bilirubin.
Most adults require 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A per day. Extremely high doses (over 40,000 IU) are associated with liver damage and jaundice. It is important to always read vitamin or supplement labels and consult with your healthcare professional before starting a new regimen.
Get Meds Info Word
Yellow skin is usually a sign of a medical condition, and many of the causes can be treated with medication or treatment. In newborns, yellowing of the skin is usually temporary and is not a cause for concern. Talk to your healthcare provider about when you first noticed a yellowing of your skin and eyes to find out what it is and to develop an appropriate treatment plan.