Gilbert Syndrome

Definition

Gilbert syndrome is a disorder of the liver. It makes it difficult for the liver to break down a toxin called bilirubin. If bilirubin is not changed to a nontoxic version by the liver, then it can build up in the blood. Gilbert syndrome is a mild condition for most people.

The Liver
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Genes are plans for cells to tell them how to work and how to grow. Gilbert syndrome is caused by a problem with a specific gene. The problem gene is inherited from the parent or parent. One gene defect has to be present in both parents in order for a child to inherit the defect. A second version of the gene only need to be present in one parent for it to pass on to the child. In both cases, the parent may not have the condition and not every child will be affected.

Bilirubin is made when old blood cells break down. In its original form it is toxic. The liver has a process that can turn toxic bilirubin into a nontoxic form which can then pass from the body. The gene defect makes it hard for the liver to change the toxin form to a nontoxic form. As a result, the toxic version can build up in the blood. Very high levels of the toxic bilirubin can cause symptoms.

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

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests will show abnormal level of bilirubin. Because the levels can vary, multiple tests may be needed over a period of time. Blood tests will also show the overall health of liver. If all other liver tests are normal except for bilirubin, than Gilbert syndrome may be suspected.

Treatment

No treatment is necessary for Gilbert syndrome. Usually, symptoms come and go. Symptoms may get worse after:

  • Skipping meals or fasting
  • Dehydration
  • Vigorous exercise
  • Repeated bouts of vomiting
  • Stress or trauma

Prevention

There is no way to prevent Gilbert syndrome. If Gilbert syndrome is present in the family genetic testing can help determine the odds of offspring having the condition.

Revisions

  • EBSCO Medical Review BoardKari Kassir, MD
  • Reviewed: 03/2017
  • Updated: 03/21/2017

Please note, not all procedures included in this resource library are available at Henry Ford Allegiance Health or performed by Henry Ford Allegiance Health physicians.

All EBSCO Publishing proprietary, consumer health and medical information found on this site is accredited by URAC. URAC's Health Web Site Accreditation Program requires compliance with 53 rigorous standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audits. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at HLEditorialTeam@ebscohost.com.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Editorial Policy | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Support
Copyright © 2008 EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.

If you are a smoker, it’s important for you to understand that smoking slows recovery and increases the risk of problems. Several weeks prior to surgery, talk with your health care provider if you need help quitting.