What Is Gilbert’s Syndrome?
Gilbert’s syndrome (also called constitutional hepatic dysfunction or familial nonhemolytic jaundice) is a common disorder that's passed through families. When you have it, too much of a waste product called bilirubin builds up in your blood. It can make your skin and eyes look yellow from time to time.
Gilbert’s syndrome looks scarier than it is. It's a harmless condition that doesn't need to be treated.
Gilbert’s Syndrome Causes and Risk Factors
It happens when a gene called UGT1A1 changes, or mutates. This gene carries instructions for making a liver enzyme that helps break down and get rid of the bilirubin in your body.
Parents pass UGT1A1 gene mutations to their children. You need two copies of the mutated gene -- one from each parent -- to get it. Even if you do have both genes, you might not have Gilbert’s syndrome.
Gilbert’s syndrome is more common in men than in women.
Gilbert’s Syndrome Symptoms
Most people with Gilbert’s syndrome don't have symptoms. They have enough of the liver enzyme to control their bilirubin levels.
When bilirubin does build up in the blood, it causes the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow. This is called jaundice. See your doctor if you notice a yellow color to your skin and eyes because another condition could be causing it.
Jaundice can cause other symptoms such as:
- Nausea and diarrhea
- Abdominal discomfort
- Dark urine
Jaundice is a common problem in babies. But it’s worse in babies born with Gilbert’s syndrome. Certain things can make your bilirubin levels rise, but you might only notice jaundice when you:
Gilbert’s Syndrome Diagnosis
Although people are born with Gilbert’s syndrome, sometimes they don’t get diagnosed until their 20s or 30s. You may have a blood test for another reason and your doctor may notice you have high bilirubin levels, which may be a clue that you have the syndrome.
They may do more tests to diagnose you, including:
- A liver ultrasound or liver function tests to rule out other problems
- Gene tests to see if you have the UGT1A1 gene mutation
- A liver biopsy (rarely done)
Gilbert’s Syndrome Treatments and Home Remedies
Most people with Gilbert’s syndrome don't need treatment. Jaundice doesn't cause any long-term problems.
To prevent it, try to avoid things that make your bilirubin levels rise. For instance:
- Don't skip meals.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Use relaxation techniques or other methods to manage stress.
- Get a good night's sleep.
- Limit your alcoholic drinks.
- Skip long and strenuous workouts.
The same liver enzyme that breaks down bilirubin also breaks down certain medicines, including:
- Irinotecan (Camptosar), a cancer drug
- Protease inhibitor drugs used to treat HIV and hepatitis C
- Monoclonal antibodies used to treat autoimmune diseases
If you have Gilbert’s syndrome and you take any of these drugs, you're at higher risk for side effects like diarrhea. Ask your doctor before you take any new medicine. And don't take more than the recommended dose.