Possible Causes of Jaundice in Elderly People

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes, and it is caused by an increase in the levels of bilirubin, which is formed following the breakdown of red blood cells. It’s more common in adults and is especially common in seniors. 

In this guide, we’ll look at the causes of jaundice in seniors and see if we can shed some light on why it’s such a common issue and what you can do to prevent it.

What are the Symptoms of Jaundice?

The symptoms vary depending on the cause, but they typically include:

  • Changes in skin color
  • Changes in eye color
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Weight loss
  • Itching
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain

What Causes Jaundice?

Bilirubin production can be interrupted at several different stages. This can occur because of liver damage, blockages, and even blood disorders. Some of the most common causes of jaundice in the elderly include:


Your gallbladder is a small organ that sits under your liver and releases a digestive fluid into your small intestine. Over time, it can form small, hard deposits. Most of these are made from cholesterol, others can be formed from bilirubin and calcium salts.

Although the cause is not entirely understood, it is believed that gallstones may form as a result of excessive cholesterol or bilirubin in the blood. 

Gallstones don’t always produce symptoms but when they do, they include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Excessive burping
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea

If the symptoms persist and cause blockages in the movement of bile, surgical intervention may be required. Jaundice is typically present when the symptoms have persisted and remained untreated. 

Many of the risk factors associated with gallstones cannot be controlled, including being female and over 60. However, some risk factors are within your power, such as:

  • Experiencing rapid weight loss
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Being diabetic
  • Being overweight


Numerous drugs can cause liver damage, even at relatively small and typically therapeutic doses. Over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are some of the main offenders here, but statins, anabolic steroids, contraceptives, anti-seizure medications, and countless other drugs can have the same effect.

Alcohol Abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption damages the liver, preventing it from doing its job. Inflammation of the liver, known as alcoholic hepatitis, can develop. The liver is very adept at healing itself, but excessive damage that follows years of abuse can lead to scarring and irreparable damage.

It takes many years of abuse to reach this point and, more often than not, jaundice is only present during the latter stages of the disease. 

Heavy drinkers should consult with a doctor as soon as jaundice appears. They will run the necessary tests, check the status of the liver, and advise on a course of treatment and rehabilitation.

Alcohol is one of the most widely available and commonly abused recreational substances. As a society, we have a very relaxed attitude when it comes to alcohol, much more so than we do for opioids, sedatives, cannabis, and other commonly abused substances. 

However, alcohol withdrawals can be more dangerous, prolonged, and painful than any opiate or sedative. In fact, it has some of the most dangerous acute withdrawals of any substance and can cause hallucinations, tremors, seizures, and more.

If you’ve been abusing alcohol for many years and are ready to stop, speak with your doctor first. Especially if you’re over the age of 60 and have preexisting medical conditions.


The following viruses can all cause inflammation of the liver and may present with symptoms like jaundice:

  • Hepatitis A: A highly infectious disease caused by a virus that spreads through contaminated food and water. 
  • Hepatitis B: Most commonly spread through bodily fluids and causes severe liver damage in chronic cases. 
  • Hepatitis C: Spread through contaminated blood, including shared needles.
  • Hepatitis D: Spread through contaminated blood in people who already have the hepatitis B virus.
  • Epstein-Barr: Also known as mononucleosis or “mono,” this is a condition that typically impacts children and young adults and is rare in seniors.

Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer often presents without symptoms in the early stages and can be difficult to detect. Some of the risk factors include being female, over the age of 60, and having a history of gallstones. 

Along with jaundice, some of the symptoms of gallbladder cancer include fever, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, and weight loss.

What to Do If You Have Jaundice

Jaundice usually hints at a very serious condition, including liver damage, infections, and cancer. Your first step, therefore, is to consult with your doctor. 

It doesn’t matter if there are other symptoms or not, and it doesn’t matter if you have never abused alcohol or drugs. It can appear for several reasons. Getting an early diagnosis is key and can make sure the problem is dealt with before it grows into something much more serious.