Jaundice or, as it used to be known, icterus, is a yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes and secretion due to hyperbilirubinaemia – an excess of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a breakdown product of old blood cells that is formed in the liver and should be excreted in the bile. If there is any obstruction to the bile flow, an absence of enzymes in the liver or the liver cells are diseased or inflamed, bilirubin cannot be processed correctly and backs up and flows into the bloodstream instead of the bowel. Once travelling in the blood, the yellow pigmentation will settle all over the body, thus causing the yellow appearance.
So you can see that jaundice is actually a symptom and not a disease. The causes of jaundice are numerous, with hepatitis, gallstones and tumours of the head or the pancreas (which surrounds the lower part of the bile duct) being potentially serious conditions.
A false jaundice may be noticed by those who have an excessive amount of beta-carotene. Carrot juice in excess is a very typical cause of a mild yellowing of the skin.
RECOMMENDATIONS • Any sign of jaundice must be reviewed by a GP and a firm diagnosis made.