Bilirubin is a chemical that is released into the blood upon the breakdown of red blood cells. It is a waste product that is formed when hemoglobin breaks down. The liver uses it to make bile.
One of the many functions of the liver is to remove the waste products from the blood. The liver removes the bilirubin from the blood. When the liver stops functioning properly there is a build up of bilirubin. This liver malfunction can be due to obstructions in the bile duct caused by gallstones or tumors, excess bilirubin in the blood that cannot be removed by the liver or when the liver is diseased - there is liver cirrhosis, hepatitis or liver failure. The symptoms and signs of liver disease (cirrhosis of the liver) are swollen ankles, fatigue, mental disorientation, muscle wasting, a coma or accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity.
Some common symptoms of elevated bilirubin are fatigue, overtiredness, an inability to do everyday chores, abdominal pain and your skin and eyes may turn yellow. This yellowing of skin and eyes is a symptom of jaundice. Jaundice is an accumulation of the bilirubin pigment in the blood. Other symptoms of jaundice are yellow urine and clay colored stools. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, a decrease in appetite, and at times itchy skin are indications too. Drugs can also cause jaundice. Rare genetic disorders such as Dubin-Johnson, Rotor's Syndrome and Crigler-Najjar syndrome all affect the level of bilirubin in the blood and can cause jaundice. A fatty liver and pre-eclampsia in pregnancy can cause bilirubin levels to rise as well.
Jaundice is a treatable disease and treatment depends on the type of infection that the person has. If you have obstructive jaundice the gallstone or tumor can be surgically removed. Medicines and proper care are necessary for hepatitis. Hospitalization may also be required in this case. If jaundice has been caused by cirrhosis of the liver, all alcohol consumption must be stopped completely, as any further intake will damage the liver even more. There is no cure for liver cirrhosis. One should definitely avoid alcohol if one's bilirubin level is high. Alcohol increases the level of bilirubin even more. If jaundice is drug induced, the discontinuation of the particular drug is recommended.
Elevated levels of bilirubin could be diagnosed with the help of blood tests, liver function tests, MRI's, CT or CAT scans, endoscopic ultrasound and Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
Submitted by M T on April 14, 2010 at 12:36