Bilirubin is something a lot of people have heard before but most people do not know really what it is. There is a lot of medical terminology that people use but it is often not talked about in enough detail to understand what exactly it means. Bilirubin is actually a very significant pigment found in the body although it does not get the credit it deserves. We all need bilirubin to function so it is important we understand what it is and how it plays a role in our body.
Bilirubin is a pigment found in bile within our body and plays an important role in our overall health. Bile is a fluid that is produced in the liver and bilirubin is one of the many important elements found within the bile. Bilirubin is important to our health because large amounts can lead to jaundice and small amounts can signal a gallbladder or liver problem. Bilirubin results from the breakdown of hemoglobin within the body which is why a blood test is needed to test the levels of bilirubin in the body. The red blood cells contain the hemoglobin and the two breakdowns of that are heme and globin. When we talk about bilirubin, it is what the heme is converted into within the body. The bilirubin is attached to a molecule which is called direct bilirubin before it gets transported into the bile. When you have indirect bilirubin this is called unconjugated which means it is not attached to another molecule or cell during transportation.
The bilirubin is broken down in the body by various bacteria within the intestines and this is why our feces is the color it is. Some of the bilirubin in the body is processed through the kidney and will appear in our urine. The only type of bilirubin you will see in the urine however is direct bilirubin. A test of the blood can determine whether you have too much bilirubin in your body or not enough and they both can cause significant health problems. You can have an increase or decrease in either your direct bilirubin or indirect bilirubin and each of these can lead to medical problems and health concerns.
An increased number of indirect bilirubin or direct bilirubin can be due to a variety of medical conditions and should be checked out immediately by a doctor. Some of the medical conditions that could cause the increase include a hematoma, anemia, hepatitis, jaundice, and a reaction to a blood transfusion. If there is an increase in the number of indirect bilirubin this will usually be caused by a blood illness and can often be treated with medications if caught early enough. If you have an increased direct bilirubin this could be caused by a bile duct obstruction, cirrhosis or hepatitis.
Although the testing of the bilirubin is fairly reliable, there are some things that can cause the testing to become tainted. Usually testing is done by blood being drawn from a vein and then the laboratory will spin the blood in a centrifuge. The centrifuge will separate the liquid part of the blood from the blood cells. The bilirubin is found within the liquid part of the blood cells where it can be tested to give a numeric number found in your body. Bilirubin can break down when it is exposed to a light source which might give you an inaccurate test result. If you have a breakdown of blood it can give a false indication of higher amounts of bilirubin than might actually exist. The lipids in the bloodstream can also harm the test results and give you a false decrease in the bilirubin level. It is important to get accurate results when testing the levels of bilirubin in the body because it could indicate a serious medical conditon.
Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, “What Is Bilirubin”, Med Help
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, “Bilirubin”, National Institute of Health Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia
A.D.A.M. Incorporated, “Bilirubin”, Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia
National Institute of Health Staff, “Bilirubin”, National Institute of Health