Gilbert syndrome is an inherited genetic condition in which a person has slightly high levels of bilirubin pigment, because the liver does not process it properly.
This can give a slightly yellow color, or jaundice, to the skin and eyes.
It is also known as constitutional hepatic dysfunction and familial nonhemolytic jaundice.
The condition is harmless, and patients do not need treatment.
In the United States (U.S.), between 3 and 7 percent of people are thought to have Gilbert syndrome, but most do not realize they have it.
Mild jaundice is the only sign that a person has Gilbert syndrome.
Many people with Gilbert syndrome have no symptoms. Around 30 percent find out they have it by chance through routine tests.
Bilirubin is made when the body breaks down red blood cells.
In Gilbert syndrome, the liver does not process bilirubin effectively, due to an inherited genetic abnormality. This causes it to build up in the body.
If a person has too much bilirubin, they will have jaundice, a yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes. The skin, too, can take on a yellowish tinge, if levels rise further.
Extremely high levels of bilirubin can cause itching, but this does not occur in Gilbert’s syndrome, because the levels of bilirubin are not that high.
Factors that may result in a mild rise in bilirubin levels and make symptoms more obvious include:
lack of sleep
Bilirubin levels do not reach very high levels with Gilbert’s syndrome, but the jaundice can be disturbing.
A person with Gilbert’s syndrome is unlikely to have specific symptoms, beyond some yellowing of the eyes.
Some people may experience fatigue and abdominal discomfort, but experts have made no connection between higher bilirubin levels and these symptoms.
What causes high bilirubin levels?
Find out more about what causes high bilirubin levels
Gilbert syndrome is considered harmless, because it does not usually cause any health problems. As a result, no treatment is required.
The symptoms of jaundice may be unsettling, but they are intermittent and nothing to worry about, and long-term monitoring is not typically needed.
If symptoms worsen, the individual should talk to their doctor so that they can rule out any other condition that may have developed.
Gilbert syndrome will not damage the liver. Apart from jaundice, there are no known complications.
Managing Gilbert syndrome
Gilbert syndrome cannot be prevented, as it is an inherited disorder.
People with the condition should make sure their doctor knows they have it, as the additional bilirubin in the system can interfere with some medications.