What is the definition of Gilbert Syndrome?

Gilbert syndrome is a mild liver disorder that impairs the body's ability to process bilirubin, a substance made when old red blood cells are broken down. This leads to fluctuating levels of bilirubin in the blood, sometimes causing levels to be high (hyperbilirubinemia). Most people with Gilbert syndrome do not have symptoms or have mild jaundice. In some cases, jaundice is triggered or made worse by stress, exercise, fasting, dehydration, drinking alcohol, or illness. Some people with Gilbert syndrome have reported other symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, or diarrhea. There has not been evidence these other symptoms are caused by hypebilirubinemia, and the cause of these symptoms currently is unclear. People with Gilbert syndrome may also have more side effects from certain drugs such as irinotecan.

Gilbert syndrome is caused by mutations in the UGT1A1 gene and inheritance is autosomal recessive. Mutations in this gene cause reduced levels of a liver enzyme needed to eliminate bilirubin from the body, causing bilirubin to accumulate. People with Gilbert syndrome have about one third of the normal enzyme activity, which usually is enough to prevent symptoms from developing. Treatment for Gilbert syndrome is usually not needed because in most cases it does not cause symptoms. People with Gilbert syndrome have a normal life expectancy.

Of note, mutations in the UGT1A1 gene can alternatively cause other disorders, such as Crigler-Najjar syndrome. There are two forms: Crigler-Najjar syndrome type 1 (CN-1) and Crigler-Najjar syndrome type 2 (CN-2). In both types, jaundice is persistent and more severe than in Gilbert syndrome, with CN-1 causing potentially life-threatening symptoms. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between Gilbert syndrome and CN-2 because of considerable overlap in measured bilirubin levels. Genetic testing to identify the specific mutation present is sometimes needed for the correct diagnosis.

What are the alternative names for Gilbert Syndrome?

  • Gilbert's disease
  • Hyperbilirubinemia Arias type
  • Hyperbilirubinemia type 1
  • Cholemia, familial

What are the current treatments for Gilbert Syndrome?

Gilbert syndrome generally doesn't require treatment. The bilirubin levels in the blood may fluctuate over time, causing episodes of jaundice. However, the jaundice is usually mild and goes away on its own. In some cases, doctors may prescribe phenobarbital to lower extremely elevated bilirubin levels and reduce signs of jaundice. Phenobarbital administration usually alleviates signs of jaundice fairly quickly.

Is Gilbert Syndrome an inherited disorder?

Gilbert syndrome is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner, which means both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of a person with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene, but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition.

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