Definition

Gilbert’s syndrome is a common, benign genetic liver disorder. It causes levels of bilirubin to rise above normal levels. Bilirubin is a yellow chemical by-product of hemoglobin (the red pigment in blood cells) and is usually excreted by the liver as bile.

Gilbert’s syndrome is found in 3%-7% of the US population, affecting up to 10% of some Caucasian populations. This condition usually manifests during the teen years or in adulthood years (ages 20-30).

The Liver

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Causes

Gilbert's 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

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. The risk factors for Gilbert’s syndrome are:

  • Family members with Gilbert's syndrome (autosomal dominant trait)—People who have Gilbert’s syndrome have a 50% chance of passing it on to each of their children.
  • Sex: male

Symptoms

Often, there are no symptoms of Gilbert’s syndrome. However, people who do have symptoms may experience:

  • Jaundice (yellowing) of the whites of the eyes
  • Jaundice of the skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Darkening of the urine

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Tests may include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • 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 to rule out other liver diseases.

Treatment

No treatment is necessary for Gilbert’s syndrome. Usually, symptoms will disappear on their own.

Prevention

There is no way to prevent Gilbert’s syndrome. However, you may prevent symptoms by avoiding the following:

  • Skipping meals or fasting
  • Dehydration (too little fluid in the body)
  • Vigorous exercise
  • Repeated bouts of vomiting
  • Stress or trauma