Bilirubin is a substance produced as a byproduct after the breakdown of hemoglobin (the protein that gives red color to the blood and helps in carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body) and old red blood cells. The process of building and breaking down red blood cells is constant, and a number of byproducts are released as a waste.
Bilirubin is also produced as a product which is removed from the body through the digestive system and is a part of the bile that is secreted by the liver. It is this pigment that gives yellow color to the urine, stools and bruises. It is also responsible for the yellow discoloration when a person is suffering from jaundice. The level of bilirubin is normally low in the body. When levels of bilirubin in the body increase, it may be a cause of concern as it is an indication of the presence of health related disorders, especially of the liver.
Triggers that Raise Bilirubin Levels
Buildup of bilirubin in the body can be an indication of a malfunctioning liver, which can lead to unwanted complications, if left untreated. Apart from this, high levels may also be caused due to the following reasons;
- Bilirubin levels can shoot up when the liver function of processing this byproduct is affected.
- Antibiotics and medicines like some types of birth control pills, flurazepam, phenytoin, diazepam and indomethacin can increase the levels in the body.
- An allergic reaction to the blood received during transfusion, called a transfusion reaction, may increase levels of bilirubin.
- Certain blood related disorders like sickle cell anemia, a hereditary disease and which causes rapid destruction of the red blood cells (hemolysis), is responsible for elevating bilirubin.
- Tumors affecting the liver, bile ducts or gallbladder
- Diseases like gallbladder stones (or gallstones) and cancer of the pancreas that obstruct and cause damage to the bile ducts. An infection in the gallbladder, called cholecystitis is another causative factor for high bilirubin levels in adults.
- Increase of conjugated bilirubin or Dublin Johnson syndrome, where there is decrease in the enzymes produced by the liver.
- Some other diseases that increase bilirubin in adults are liver cirrhosis, severe hepatitis and Gilbert's syndrome, which is a condition that affects the processing of bilirubin in the liver.
Symptoms of Elevated Bilirubin
An increase in the levels can be detected observing the following signs exhibited by the body. Identifying them at the earliest can prevent this condition from aggravating
- Discoloration of the skin and whites in the eyes i.e. the skin and the whites in the eyes appear yellowish
- Feeling of nausea and vomiting
- Dark amber or brownish yellow colored urine
- High fever accompanied by chills
- Pruritus or itching
- Clay colored or pale stools
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Fatigue and general malaise
- Loss of appetite
Treatment to Control Elevated Bilirubin
In order to detect bilirubin levels, the person must undergo regular medical checkups. A urine test is also done to check for the level of bilirubin in the body. High levels in adults may cause damage to the liver which can be life-threatening.
- Undergoing surgery to remove gallbladder stones or liver transplant, where the affected part of the liver is removed, to treat the dysfunction of the liver and hence lower the levels.
- Drinking barley water several times during the day is an effective home remedy and helps treating this disorder.
- Abstain from tobacco and alcohol intake if you are suffering from jaundice. Alcohol may increase this waste product in the body, which can be fatal.
- If any cancer or metastatic liver cancer is one of the causes, then the treatment may vary according to the severity of the disease.
An increase in bilirubin levels in adults is an indication of liver problems. In order to avert any complications, it is necessary to take medications that will fight the disorders in the liver and restore health.