High bilirubin levels can occur in people of all ages. Bilirubin is a yellow substance found in the blood. Bilirubin is produced when red blood cells in the blood are broken down. Bilirubin levels are expected between 0.3 and 1.2 mg/dL; any higher level is considered elevated. While some people experience elevated bilirubin levels throughout their lives, in chronic disease, there may be an underlying cause, indicating something more serious is happening in the body.
It can be challenging to know if you have high bilirubin; in many cases, the diagnosis is made incidentally or while clients are screened for other disorders. Many factors can cause elevated bilirubin levels, and understanding the cause can help your doctor plan the proper treatment. Here are 14 common causes of high bilirubin levels.
Gallstones are a common problem for many people and, in most cases, are not severe. This condition occurs when cholesterol builds up in the gallbladder and causes it to harden. Small stones may form, causing unbearable pain and discomfort. These stones vary in size; the more significant the size, the more influential the pain. Gallstones can occur when bilirubin has already built up in the body.
If the gallstone is too large, it will hinder the normal excretion of bilirubin, resulting in increased bilirubin in the body. Some gallstones break down on their own and do not require treatment. Others require surgery. Once bilirubin is excreted normally again, the bilirubin level will drop. Some people need medicines to prevent gallstone formation and keep bilirubin levels safe. Depending on the cause, your doctor can choose the proper treatment.
2. Gilbert Syndrome
Gilbert's syndrome is an inherited liver disease that prevents the liver from adequately processing bilirubin. Bilirubin builds up in the blood because the liver cannot process it. It can get high and cause many complications. People with the disease may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In most cases, these symptoms are very mild and may not be noticeable in some cases.
Some people go undiagnosed for years because their symptoms haven't been severe enough for them to worry about. The syndrome can be treated with medication, and surgery may sometimes be required. When the syndrome is under control, bilirubin levels drop. Many people with the disease are not diagnosed until they become severe, or they realize that it runs in families. They want to be analyzed to begin treatment before the condition becomes severe.
3. Liver dysfunction
Many factors can affect the normal function of the liver. Whenever it fails to do its job and function as it should, bilirubin levels spike. The cause of liver dysfunction determines the correct treatment. Sometimes the liver can repair itself and work normally again, bringing bilirubin levels back to normal. In other cases, the dysfunction is more severe and can be addressed with more advanced treatment options.
Medications may be used to improve liver function. If a cyst or cancer is the cause of the problem, it may need surgical removal. Many people suffer from liver dysfunction but don't realize there is a problem until bilirubin levels get out of control and cause complications. After the patient recovers, it may take some time for the liver to process the bilirubin further and bring the bilirubin levels under control.
Hepatitis is a severe liver infection that causes liver inflammation. When the liver becomes inflamed or swollen, it cannot function properly. This means that bilirubin cannot be adequately filtered and can build up in the body. Hepatitis is treatable and, in many cases, completely curable. It can be challenging to recognize, and many people do not show symptoms until the disease progresses and becomes severe. If the liver is severely damaged from hepatitis, it may take a while to heal.
During this time, bilirubin levels continue to rise. Medicines may be needed to improve the function of the liver and improve liver levels. People who have hepatitis and don't know it may have chronically elevated bilirubin levels without knowing it. The problem can be diagnosed with a blood test, and vaccines are available to prevent certain types of hepatitis.
5. Bile duct inflammation
When the bile ducts become inflamed, bilirubin levels rise. Bilirubin builds up and cannot be excreted normally. When it is finally passed, systemic concentrations may be elevated. Inflamed bile ducts can block bile, causing the liver to stop working correctly. Many factors can cause inflammation of the bile ducts, but infection and cancer are the two most common causes.
Symptoms of a bile duct infection can also vary. In many cases, the condition is only diagnosed after a person complains of symptoms of elevated bilirubin levels. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the infection does not go away. Once the inflammation is treated, the liver can heal and properly regulate bilirubin levels. If cancer-causing inflammation or other problems are present, surgery may be needed to treat the pain.
6. Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy
Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy is a condition that can occur in pregnant women. It usually occurs in the third trimester and can last through the rest of pregnancy. It usually goes away within a few weeks after delivery. This condition can lead to elevated bilirubin levels in both mother and child. Some babies have high bilirubin levels because the mother had intrahepatic cholestasis during pregnancy.
This condition usually does not require treatment and will go away alone. Babies with high bilirubin levels may need treatment before being discharged. Women typically recover quickly and may not know anything is wrong with them. Babies with jaundice from this condition can be treated in the hospital if the jaundice is severe or sent home with nursing guidance if the jaundice is mild.
7. Hemolytic anemia
Hemolytic anemia is a disorder that causes the body to destroy red blood cells prematurely. This prevents them from reaching the organ and makes the organ have to work harder to do its job. The liver is one of the organs affected by this condition. Without sufficient or proper blood flow, the liver cannot function as it should and cannot regulate bilirubin levels. Anemia can be treated but persist long before an accurate diagnosis.
In some cases, elevated bilirubin levels are the trigger for a correct diagnosis. When treatment for hemolytic anemia begins and takes effect, the liver recovers and can regulate bilirubin levels again. In rare cases, anemia can be so severe that it can cause severe damage to the liver. When this happens, medications may be needed to control bilirubin levels and help the liver heal.
8. Blood transfusion
When a person receives a blood transfusion, the liver may take a while to accept the transfusion. This puts stress on the liver and affects its normal function. If it is not functioning correctly, it cannot control or maintain the levels of bilirubin in the body. Blood transfusions can take some time, during which the liver must adapt to the new blood and reactivate itself.
Once the transfusion is complete and the blood has circulated throughout the body for a while, the liver begins to function normally and can regulate bilirubin levels. In some cases, bilirubin levels can be high after a blood transfusion as the liver tries to get used to the new blood and work. In rare cases, blood transfusions can cause damage to the liver, which may require surgery or medication to help it heal and properly regulate bilirubin levels.
9. Vigorous exercise
Strenuous exercise can raise bilirubin levels. When you work your core muscles, the temperature rises, which indicates that bilirubin levels are increasing. The more you exercise, the more bilirubin is produced and the higher your bilirubin level. This is normal and nothing to worry about in most cases. Once you get some rest and your core temperature returns to normal, so will your bilirubin levels. Depending on how active you are, this may take some time.
Drinking plenty of water before and after exercise can help your body function properly and regulate bilirubin levels regularly. Most people don't even realize their bilirubin levels are elevated and only notice changes in bilirubin levels by accident. In rare cases, levels remain high even after the core temperature has dropped and the person has rested. In such cases, medical tests may be needed to determine the cause.
10. Substance Abuse
People who abuse the drug may develop elevated bilirubin levels. Medications can do a lot of damage to the body and affect how the liver works. Any drug that enters the body is processed and filtered by the liver. It also means that many of the chemicals found in the pill may cause liver problems. The liver can be damaged by chemicals or overwhelmed by the amount of drugs it has to filter.
The more drugs you take and the longer you take them, the more serious the damage to your liver will be. During drug use, bilirubin levels rise because the liver can no longer function as it should. Medications can also severely damage the liver, making it unable to work as well even when the patient stops taking the medication. The liver can heal after drug abuse but may never function fully.
11. Certain Medications
Some medicines may cause liver problems. The liver filters substances out of the body. So when you take medications, those medicines must pass through the liver. Sometimes the medication you take can be too vital for your liver. This is especially true if the liver is infected or has other problems that can weaken the liver. When the liver is overwhelmed by too many toxins or drugs passing through the body, it may stop functioning or become damaged.
The longer you take the drug, the more it will affect your liver. While many people cannot stop their medication, doctors may need to change the prescription to give the liver a break to repair itself and properly regulate bilirubin levels. Your doctor may need to do tests to see if this drug is the cause of your liver problems.
12. Liver cirrhosis
Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious problem usually caused by heavy or long-term alcohol use. Other factors can cause cirrhosis. It can affect people of all ages and even be fatal if left untreated. Cirrhosis prevents the liver from working correctly and can lead to elevated bilirubin levels.
The more prolonged cirrhosis lasts, the worse bilirubin levels will get. If cirrhosis is not too severe, the liver can heal. Sometimes, the liver may stop working, and a liver transplant may be required to save the patient's life. Bilirubin levels can only be regulated if the liver is treated or cured. Many people consider cirrhosis a death sentence, but it is treatable, and many people fully recover. Bilirubin levels may remain high even after recovery.
13. Poor diet
The food you eat has a significant impact on your body. If you eat an unhealthy diet, your body will be sick, and your organs will fail or be damaged. One of the first organs to suffer damage may be the liver. The first sign may be elevated bilirubin levels when the liver is not working as it should. In many cases, people need to realize that their diet is the source of the problem.
They may go to the doctor and undergo extensive tests to find out the cause of the problem. Once the root cause is identified, a nutritionist will help you create a meal plan that will help improve a person's overall health and give the liver a chance to heal, thereby helping to regulate bilirubin levels. In most cases, diet will make a difference and improve liver function.
14. Gallbladder disease
The gallbladder is as susceptible to disease as any other body part. Many conditions can affect the gallbladder, many of which can cause elevated bilirubin levels. The gallbladder is connected to the liver and works closely with the liver. If the gallbladder is diseased and not working properly, the liver is likely not working correctly. This can cause bilirubin levels to rise to unsafe levels.
Medications can help bring the levels back to safe levels, but unless the gallbladder starts functioning normally again, the body won't be able to control the levels. A proper diagnosis of gallbladder disease and its underlying cause is necessary to find the correct treatment or medication to treat the infection and restore bilirubin levels to safe levels so the body can regulate them.