Jaundice is a pronounced yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by the presence of excess bilirubin in a patient's bloodstream, according to Mayo Clinic. Bilirubin is one of the breakdown products produced in the body's reprocessing of red blood cells, and abnormal amounts of it build up in the body's tissues when the liver is unable to process it out.
Jaundice is often taken as a symptom of serious medical problems related to the normal function of the liver. Chronic alcohol consumption, for example, can cause cirrhosis of the liver and impair its function until bilirubin can no longer be efficiently dealt with. Other causes of jaundice, according to Mayo Clinic, include internal bleeding, viral or bacterial infections and, in infants, an abnormality in the baby's red blood cells that causes them to break. Newborn babies can also develop jaundice as a result of an incompatibility with their mothers' blood factors or enzyme deficiencies.
According to WebMD, jaundice can also be a sign of cancer. Pancreatic cancer, as well as cancers of the gallbladder and bile duct, often disrupt the liver's ability to process bilirubin. Hepatitis is also a common cause of jaundice, as it directly impacts normal liver function.