Background: Jaundice is a rare but important symptom of malignant and benign conditions. When patients present in primary care, understanding the relative likelihood of different disease processes can help GPs to investigate and refer patients appropriately.
Objective: To identify and quantify the various causes of jaundice in adults presenting in primary care.
Design: Historical cohort study using electronic primary care records.
Setting: UK General Practice Research Database.
Methods: Participants (186 814 men and women) aged >45 years with clinical events recorded in primary care records between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2007. Data were searched for episodes of jaundice and explanatory diagnoses identified within the subsequent 12 months. If no diagnosis was found, the patient's preceding medical record was searched for relevant chronic diseases.
Results: From the full cohort, 277 patients had at least one record of jaundice between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2006. Ninety-two (33%) were found to have bile duct stones; 74 (27%) had an explanatory cancer [pancreatic cancer 34 (12%), cholangiocarcinoma 13 (5%) and other diagnosed primary malignancy 27 (10%)]. Liver disease attributed to excess alcohol explained 26 (9%) and other diagnoses were identified in 24 (9%). Sixty-one (22%) had no diagnosis related to jaundice recorded.
Conclusion: Although the most common cause of jaundice is bile duct stones, cancers are present in over a quarter of patients with jaundice in this study, demonstrating the importance of urgent investigation into the underlying cause.