Bilirubin is a byproduct of the liver processing waste. When the liver isn’t functioning properly, bilirubin may begin to build up in the body.
Liver failure, Gilbert syndrome, gallbladder infections and certain medications such as antibiotics, pain relievers and birth control pills, can all cause adults to have high bilirubin levels. Pancreatic cancer, allergic reaction to a blood transfusion, hepatitis, blocked bile ducts and sickle cell anemia can also cause high levels.
The most common symptom of high bilirubin levels in an adult is yellowing of the skin and eyes. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dark-colored urine and fatigue.
A blood test is required to diagnose and monitor high bilirubin levels in adults. Unless a patient has conjugated bilirubin, urinalysis isn’t an effective way to test for bilirubin.
According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, males have higher bilirubin levels than females, and African Americans generally have lower levels of bilirubin. Alcohol abuse and drug abuse, including prescription drug abuse, are also risk factors.
Treating high levels of bilirubin in adults depends on determining the cause of the elevated levels. Possible treatment include prescription medications or a liver transplant.