Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What does it mean if a person's skin is turning yellow?"
My grandpa's skin looks kind of yellow. I live with him and noticed it last week. He doesn't notice it. What can make this happen? Does he have a disease?
Yellow skin color is also known as jaundice, which can occur for a number of reasons. The most common reason is a result of a liver disease. Most of the time, it is due to hepatitis virus, alcohol, or cholangitis. A person can also get a yellowing of the skin from consuming too much carrot or carrot juice. When there is a significant bleeding, the break-down products of the blood (heme) will also cause jaundice of the skin. In the US, hepatitis viruses are not as common as they are in other countries. Alcohol affects patients in the US much more commonly and their effects are just as deadly. Liver damage takes years to show up and they often do not cause pain, aches, or any signs until its reserve is quite low. Sometimes a patient's liver function (laboratory tests) looks fairly normal even when their liver is severely damaged. That said, what your grandpa should do is to follow up with his primary care physician who can properly examine and order appropriate laboratory testing. If liver disease is suspected, the next test should be imaging like an ultrasound of the liver or CT scan of the abdomen and a liver biopsy. If there is any concern, further work up to identify the disease and to find possible remedies is essential. If no remedies are available, he may be able to be listed for a liver transplant.
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