The liver, that does the job of maintaining normal blood sugar levels, is supposedly the largest organ in the human body. The liver manufactures a digestive juice, bile, that aids in digestion. Bilirubin is the byproduct of the decomposition of red blood cells (RBCs). As the red blood cells die, they leave a yellow colored pigmented waste which is nothing but bilirubin. This process of deterioration of red blood cells happens inside the liver. The main function of liver is to dispose off substantial amount of bilirubin from the body through feces and urine.
This pigment is responsible for giving the stool its normal color. Bilirubin also occurs in the urine and when its presence increases beyond normal range, urine that is usually straw-yellow appears dark-colored and bowel movement produces light-colored stools.
High Bilirubin Levels in Adults
Does bilirubin beyond the normal range indicate the presence of any disease? Yes, of course! People suffering from jaundice commonly show bilirubin that is well above the normal range. In general, liver disorders trigger elevated bilirubin in blood. Diseases caused by the hepatitis virus and other health issues like formation of gallstones in the gallbladder, hemolysis (too much red blood cell destruction) and tumors in the liver, are responsible for bringing this unwelcome change in bilirubin concentration. Pancreatic cancer and even malignant tumors in the gallbladder can cause bilirubin to rise above normal levels. Bilirubin is likely to surge above the normal range in people who have the habit of consuming too much alcohol. Gallstones trapped in the bile ducts (passages that allow free flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine) can also lead to increase in concentration of bilirubin.
In general, excess bilirubin in blood cannot be tolerated by the body and this intolerance is observed in the form of yellow skin and eyes, a common symptom of jaundice. The increased concentration of bilirubin is the result of your liver's inability to get rid of excess bilirubin. Also, normal bilirubin levels differ in both men and women. Normal values of bilirubin in women tends to be less than their male counterparts.
Normal Bilirubin Range
As bilirubin is found in the blood, a simple blood test will allow the doctor to determine exact bilirubin levels. When bilirubin is present in the normal range, it is less than 1mg/dl. Here dl refers to deciliter (equivalent to one tenth part of a liter). This means 1 liter of blood contains less than 0.01 grams of bilirubin.
Is it Normal to Have High Bilirubin in Newborns?
Jaundice in newborns is a common phenomenon. This is because liver of newborns is not yet fully developed and hence unable to get rid of bilirubin properly. No wonder, newborns are often diagnosed with elevated bilirubin in blood. Jaundice that accompanies newborns is usually not a cause for concern and the condition resolves on its own in two week's time. During this period, the doctor may recommend bilirubin test to determine the severity of jaundice. Bilirubin going below 20 mg/dL indicate minor cases of jaundice that does not require any treatment. In case the bilirubin range in newborns has crossed the 20 mg/dL, it is worrisome and so the baby must be treated at the earliest.
Chronic high bilirubin levels in newborns can interfere with the normal functioning of the brain and may lead to mental disorders like learning disabilities. In some cases, babies with too much bilirubin in blood eventually develop mental retardation. Hearing impairment and difficulty in moving the eye are some of the health hazards of surplus bilirubin in blood.
Low Bilirubin Levels
Many say that one does not have to really worry if blood tests show less than normal amount of bilirubin in blood. However, this is not true. Studies show that people having bilirubin below the normal range, have high chances of developing heart problems. In another study, it was observed that early symptoms of coronary artery disease was observed in individuals who had less than normal bilirubin in their blood. Blood samples of people diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) have also shown less than normal amount of bilirubin in blood. SAD is similar to depression that brings decreased energy levels, fatigue and concentration problems.
On the whole, high bilirubin points out that something wrong is happening in the body and is often an indication of liver problems that cannot be ignored. Timely medical intervention is the key to avert any complications and restore health as early as possible.