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Jaundice in Adults

Jaundice that is accompanied by fever or abdominal pain can be a sign of a life-threatening problem. You should be evaluated by a physician, such as a doctor in an emergency department, as soon as possible.

The most dangerous condition that can cause your symptoms is cholangitis, also called ascending cholangitis. This is a bacterial infection in the ducts (drainage tubes) that deliver bile to the gall bladder. Usually cholangitis results when a gallstone or scar from prior surgery blocks smooth drainage of bile, allowing an infection to take hold within the bile fluid. Cholangitis is treatable with antibiotics. It requires hospitalization because it is an infection that can be life-threatening without appropriate treatment.

Another problem that can cause fever, pain, and jaundice is hepatitis. When hepatitis is new and is causing rapidly increasing inflammation in the liver, it is called acute hepatitis. The most common cause of acute hepatitis is the hepatitis A virus. You can get hepatitis A by eating contaminated shellfish, by eating other contaminated food, or by being exposed in an environment where hygiene habits or diaper changing of children may allow spread of this infection.

Infections are not the only cause of acute hepatitis. For example, a blood clot in the veins that flow out of your liver can cause injury and inflammation of your liver. This inflammation is caused by pressure changes from the accumulation of blood in the liver. This problem is named Budd-Chiari syndrome.

Your evaluation will probably begin with blood tests and a look at the liver using an ultrasound or a computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen.


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