Gilbert Syndrome

(Hyperbilirubinemia)

Definition

Gilbert syndrome is a genetic liver disorder. It causes levels of bilirubin to rise above normal levels. Bilirubin is a yellow chemical by-product of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the red pigment in blood cells that is usually excreted by the liver as bile.
The Liver
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Causes

Gilbert syndrome is usually caused by an inherited genetic abnormality. Symptoms occur when there is an interference with the liver enzyme that is important in the elimination of bilirubin. This causes the levels of bilirubin to increase in the blood, which may produce symptoms such as jaundice.

Risk Factors

Gilbert syndrome is more common in males, and in those with a family history.

Symptoms

Often, there are no symptoms of Gilbert syndrome. However, people who do have symptoms may experience:
  • Yellowing of the skin known as jaundice
  • Jaundice of the whites of the eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Darkening of the urine

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
  • Blood tests
  • Reticulocyte count
  • Total and direct bilirubin
  • Liver function tests
Blood tests are also done to rule out more serious liver diseases, such as hepatitis. Sometimes, a liver biopsy may also need to be done.

Treatment

No treatment is necessary for Gilbert syndrome. Usually, symptoms come and go.

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Prevention

There is no way to prevent Gilbert syndrome. However, you may prevent symptoms by avoiding the following:
  • Skipping meals or fasting
  • Dehydration
  • Vigorous exercise
  • Repeated bouts of vomiting
  • Stress or trauma

RESOURCES

American Liver Foundation
http://www.liverfoundation.org

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
http://www.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Liver Foundation
http://www.liver.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References

Gilbert syndrome. American Liver Foundationwebsite. Available at: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/gilbertsyndrome. Updated October 4, 2011. Accessed May 30, 2013.

Gilbert syndrome. Genetics Home Reference website. Available at: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/gilbert-syndrome. Updated February 2012. Accessed May 30, 2013.

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