Dr Dan J Bell and Dr Aditya Shetty et al.

Jaundice refers to a clinical sign of hyperbilirubinemia (>2.5 mg/dl) which has many causes. It is often a clue to a diagnosis. It can be largely divided into two types:

  • non-obstructive, i.e. pre-hepatic and hepatic causes
  • obstructive, i.e. post-hepatic causes

Imaging has a major role in detecting the obstructive causes.

Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and/or sclerae. Patients may present with painless or painful jaundice. Painless jaundice is always very suspicious for an underlying obstructive malignant cause 3

Categories of causes 3:

Patients presenting with jaundice is a common indication for imaging. Often a specific cause will not be found, and the main role is differentiating between non-obstructive and obstructive jaundice. In the latter, extrahepatic and/or intrahepatic bile duct dilatation can be expected, depending on the level of obstruction. 

Hepatobiliary ultrasound and MRCP are the mainstay imaging modalities. Bilirubin levels are often too elevated for CT cholangiography to be performed.  

Management depends on the underlying aetiology. In jaundiced neonates, phototherapy and exchange transfusion should be considered.

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Article information

rID: 26998
Tag: causes
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Obstructive jaundice

Cases and figures

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    Case 1: dilated CBD and pseudocyst
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    Case 2: obstructing pancreatic head cancer
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