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Gilbert’s disease, what is it? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Gilbert’s disease is an abnormality in the liver function, leading to the presence of a toxic substance in the blood: bilirubin. This pathology is genetic, and transmitted to the (hereditary) offspring.

Definition of Gilbert’s disease

Gilbert’s disease, also known as Gilbert’s syndrome, is characterized by an abnormally high level of a toxic substance, bilirubin, in the body. This is a situation of hyperbilirubinemia.

Bilirubin, yellow-orange in color, is produced when blood cells decompose. It is found in the body when it undergoes a chemical reaction from the liver. In patients with Gilbert’s disease, the bilirubin level fluctuates considerably. In rare cases, this rate increases until it causes jaundice: yellowing of the skin and eyes.

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This syndrome is usually diagnosed in adolescence. However, an individual may have episodes of hyperbilirubinemia. These episodes are generally not serious, and appear when the body is under stress (periods of stress, prolonged hydration, fasting, illness, too intense exercise, etc.).

Gilbert’s disease patients may also have abdominal discomfort (stomach pain, stomach ache, etc.), as well as general and chronic fatigue.

The causes of Gilbert’s disease

Gilbert’s syndrome is the result of inherited genetic abnormalities (transmitted to offspring). An error in the encoding of specific genes, then causes a deficiency in the liver and the presence of bilirubin in the blood.

In the normal biological process, when blood cells mature (after 120 days), hemoglobin (the pigment that gives red color to the blood and allows oxygen to be distributed throughout the body) gets rid of bilirubin. In parallel, the liver is able to convert this substance into its water-soluble form. The soluble form of bilirubin allows it to pass into the bile (fluid produced by the liver playing a significant role in the digestive process), then to be eliminated in the urine or in the stool.

In the context of Gilbert’s syndrome, a consequence of a genetic deficiency, the liver is no longer able to make bilirubin soluble. His passage into the bile is no longer possible. As a result, this non-evacuated substance is more easily found in the bloodstream.

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Beyond the genetic factor, no other risk factor for Gilbert’s disease is known to date.

Each individual may be at risk of developing Gilbert’s disease. Since transmission is genetic, the presence of the disease in the family carries an increased risk of developing it as well. In addition, women are more likely to develop the disease.

The symptoms of Gilbert’s disease

Patients with Gilbert’s disease often have characteristic symptoms, as well as episodes of jaundice .

The clinical signs are, most often, associated with:

  • a state of dehydration
  • a lack of appetite
  • a disease or an infection
  • a period of chronic stress
  • intense physical exercises
  • lack of sleep

How to treat Gilbert’s disease?

The diagnosis of Gilbert’s disease is made by performing a blood test to measure the level of bilirubin and the state of functioning of the liver.

In some cases, a genetic test can confirm the clinical diagnosis.

It is a disease that lasts throughout the life of the patient. In addition, no specific treatment is available. Health problems related to Gilbert’s disease are rare. In some cases, the most important complications are related to the development of hepatic (liver) pathologies

It is not necessary either to modify one’s eating habits or to reduce the usual physical activity. Eviction of stressful situations, dehydration, fasting is however advised.

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