Kids Health Info

Gilberts syndrome

  • Gilbert's (pron. Zhil-bair's) syndrome is a fairly common liver disorder that is present at birth and is probably inherited. It is not a serious disease and is found more often in males. It shows up as mild, changing increases in the level of bilirubin (a yellow pigment) in the blood.

    When old red blood cells are broken down, bilirubin is produced. The bilirubin is then carried in the blood to the liver. The liver uses chemicals, called enzymes, to help break down the bilirubin. Gilbert's syndrome happens when one of the enzymes that help the liver remove bilirubin from the blood is not working properly. Apart from the minor problem with clearing bilirubin, the liver functions quite normally.

    It is estimated that between three and seven people in every 100 have Gilbert's syndrome. The beginning of Gilbert's syndrome usually happens in the teens or early adulthood (20s and 30s).

    Signs and symptoms

    • It is rare that your child would have any major symptoms with Gilbert's syndrome.
    • Occasionally you will notice that your child has mild yellowness of the skin (jaundice). The whites of their eyes may become yellow, which may be more obvious during an illness such as a cold or 'flu.
    • Except for the raised bilirubin level in the blood, other tests of liver function are normal.

    Diagnosis

    • The main goal of the doctor is to make a distinction between Gilbert's syndrome and more serious causes of liver disease.
    • The diagnosis of Gilbert's syndrome is made when there is a persistent increased level of bilirubin but other liver function tests are normal.
    • Blood tests may need to be repeated a few times to confirm the diagnosis and other tests may be necessary in some patients.

    Treatment

    Gilbert's syndrome does not require treatment (for mild jaundice) and will not interfere with a normal lifestyle.

    If your child is looking more jaundiced (yellow) than normal, see your local GP. There may be another cause for the jaundice, and further blood tests may be needed.

    Key points to remember

    • Gilbert's syndrome is not a serious disease and there are not usually any major symptoms.
    • Gilbert's syndrome needs to be diagnosed with blood tests to ensure that your child does not have a more serious liver disease.
    • Gilbert's syndrome does not require treatment and will not interfere with a normal lifestyle.

     

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine. First published: 2003. Reviewed: May 2011



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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.