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General Practice 2023

Yellow skin: 10 main causes (and what to do)

Yellow skin: 10 main causes (and what to do)
Yellow skin: 10 main causes (and what to do)

Yellow skin can be a symptom of various liver diseases, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, for example, especially if the person also has the whites of the eyes yellow, in which case the yellow skin is called jaundice. However, yellow skin can also be a sign of other diseases such as anemia or anorexia nervosa. In addition, high intake of foods rich in beta-carotene such as carrots or papaya can also cause yellow skin, however, in these cases, the eyes do not turn yellow, only the skin.

It is important to go to the doctor as soon as yellow skin is noticed, especially if there is also fever, whitish stools, dark urine, weakness and excessive tiredness, as these are symptoms indicative of liver, gallbladder or pancreas problems, as in this way it is possible to confirm the diagnosis and initiate the most appropriate treatment.


Yellow skin can be a symptom of several conditions, the main ones being:

1. Hepatitis

Hepatitis is the most common cause of jaundice and corresponds to inflammation of the liver caused by a virus, continued use of medication or an autoimmune disease, leading to symptoms such as yellow skin, abdominal pain and swelling, mild fever, itching, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. See what the symptoms of hepatitis are.

What to do: Hepatitis treatment should be done according to medical advice, and the use of medication or rest, adequate nutrition and hydration may be recommended depending on the cause of hepatitis.

2. Liver failure

Liver failure happens when the liver is not able to perform its normal functions such as detoxifying the body, for example. In this case, in addition to jaundice, the person usually has swelling of the body, body pain, bleeding and ascites, which is the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.

What to do: It is important to consult the hepatologist to discover the cause of the disease and establish the best form of treatment, which is often done through liver transplant.

3. Liver cyst

The cyst is a cavity filled with fluid and in the liver it normally does not produce symptoms, however, in some cases it can lead to a yellowish appearance of the skin, in addition to in the abdomen, sudden weight loss, fever above 38ºC and tiredness.

What to do: A liver cyst usually does not require specific treatment, but if it gradually increases in size and causes symptoms, surgical removal may be necessary. Learn more about liver cyst.

4. Liver cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis corresponds to the chronic and progressive inflammation of the liver characterized by the destruction of liver cells, which can cause yellow skin and yellow eyes, whitish nails, bad breath, prominent and visible veins in the abdomen and abdominal swelling. Check out other symptoms of liver cirrhosis.

What to do: Treatment for liver cirrhosis varies depending on the cause, however it is important to maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains, as they are easily digested. Understand how cirrhosis is treated.


5. Gallbladder stones

Gallbladder stones are formed due to the accumulation of calcium and cholesterol inside the gallbladder and can cause a gallbladder infection called cholangitis, which causes jaundice, fever above 38ºC, severe pain in the abdomen, back pain, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.

What to do: Treatment can be done with the use of medicine, surgery and a proper diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, salads and wholegrain products.

6. Sickle cell anemia

Sickle cell anemia is a type of hereditary anemia in which there is malformation of red blood cells, which are altered in shape, causing a deficiency in the transport of oxygen to the cells of the body, which can cause jaundice, swelling and redness of the hands and feet, as well as bone and joint pain. Learn more about sickle cell anemia.

What to do: The treatment of sickle cell anemia is done according to the direction of the hematologist and usually involves the use of medication and blood transfusions for life.

7. Thalassemia

Thalassaemia is a genetic and hereditary disease of the blood that causes, in addition to yellowing of the skin and eyes, symptoms such as tiredness, anemia, weakness and growth retardation.

What to do: Thalassemia has no cure, however the treatment is done according to the severity of the symptoms, with blood transfusions and the use of supplements of folic acid. See how thalassemia is treated.


8. Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by exaggerated and sudden loss of weight with distortion of the body image, and it is common for anorexic individuals to have dry and yellow skin, as well as hair loss or thin and brittle hair.

What to do: Treatment involves group, family and behavioral therapy, in addition to nutritional counseling, usually with the intake of food supplements to suppress nutritional deficiencies.

9. Excessive intake of beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant present in many foods, being mainly responsible for improving the immune system, in addition to helping to improve the tan. Thus, excessive consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene, such as carrots, papaya, pumpkin, tomatoes and broccoli, for example, can lead to a yellowish appearance of the skin. See which foods are rich in beta-carotene.

What to do: The best way to make the skin return to its normal color is to reduce the consumption of these foods and look for other foods that have the same properties.

10. Neonatal jaundice

Neonatal jaundice corresponds to the presence of yellowish skin in babies in the first days of life and occurs due to the accumulation of bilirubin in the bloodstream, which must be treated in the hospital and, in more severe cases, preferably in the neonatal ICU.

What to do: The treatment of jaundice in the baby is done while still in the hospital by means of phototherapy, which consists of exposing the baby to light for a few days with the aim of to decrease the blood concentration of bilirubin. Understand what newborn jaundice is and how to treat it.

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