Jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes) is an important symptom and may be accompanied by dark urine and/or pale stools. There are many possible causes but it usually occurs as a result of inflammation of the liver ('hepatitis'), permanent scarring of the liver ('cirrhosis') or obstruction of the bile duct (the tube carrying bile from the liver to the intestine). A person with jaundice should always be referred urgently to a specialist for investigation.
More commonly, many people are found to have abnormal liver blood tests, often as an incidental finding when blood tests are checked for other reasons. Often there is a very simple explanation but some important conditions can come to light in this way including viral hepatitis, immune conditions affecting the liver, side-effects of medications, excess alcohol and storage of too much fat ('fatty liver' or 'NAFLD') or iron in the liver ('haemochromatosis'). Gastroenterologists are usually able to diagnose the cause of liver problems by blood tests and imaging investigations such as ultrasound and MRI scanning.
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