Gilbert's syndrome is a common, mild liver condition in which the liver doesn't properly process a substance called bilirubin. Bilirubin is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells.
Gilbert's (zheel-BAYRZ) syndrome typically is harmless and doesn't require treatment.
Gilbert's syndrome is caused by an inherited gene mutation. You're born with Gilbert's syndrome, though it often goes undiscovered for many years. Gilbert's syndrome is often discovered by accident, such as when you have a blood test that shows elevated bilirubin levels.
Gilbert's syndrome is also known as constitutional hepatic dysfunction and familial nonhemolytic jaundice.
The liver is your largest internal organ. About the size of a football, it's located mainly in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above your stomach. ...
The lone sign of Gilbert's disease is that your skin and the whites of your eyes occasionally have a yellowish tinge (jaundice). This is caused by the slightly elevated levels of bilirubin in your blood. Some conditions and situations may increase bilirubin levels, and thereby jaundice, in people with Gilbert's syndrome. These include:
The jaundice will go away when these conditions resolve.
When to see a doctor
Gilbert's syndrome is caused by an abnormal gene that you inherit from your parents. The gene controls an enzyme that helps break down bilirubin in your liver. With an ineffective gene, excess amounts of bilirubin build up in your blood.
How the body normally processes bilirubin
How the abnormal gene is passed through families
You have an increased risk of Gilbert's syndrome if both of your parents carry the abnormal gene that causes the disorder.
Side effects with certain medications
In particular, irinotecan (Camptosar), a cancer chemotherapy drug, can reach toxic levels if you have Gilbert's syndrome, causing severe diarrhea. Some protease inhibitors used to treat HIV cause elevated levels of bilirubin in people with Gilbert's syndrome.
Because of the potential for side effects, if you have Gilbert's syndrome, talk to your doctor before taking any new medications.
Preparing for your appointment
Here are some questions that might help facilitate a discussion with your doctor:
Tests and diagnosis
The presence of Gilbert's syndrome is often discovered by accident, due to either:
Your doctor will examine you and ask about symptoms of liver disease, such as abdominal pain or dark urine. He or she may recommend blood tests to rule out liver problems that can cause elevated levels of bilirubin. Common blood tests include:
The combination of normal blood and liver function tests and elevated bilirubin levels is an indicator of Gilbert's syndrome. No other testing is usually needed to make the diagnosis.
Although it's present from birth, Gilbert's syndrome usually isn't noticed until puberty or later, since bilirubin production increases during puberty. It's more commonly diagnosed in males.
Treatments and drugs
Gilbert's syndrome doesn't require treatment. The bilirubin levels in your blood may fluctuate over time and you may occasionally experience jaundice. But this usually goes away on its own, and it doesn't cause any ill effects.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Certain life events, such as stress, can trigger episodes of higher bilirubin levels in Gilbert's syndrome, leading to jaundice. Doing what you can to manage those situations can help keep bilirubin under control.
These steps include:
Last Updated: 2012-06-22
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