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The Purpose of the Bilirubin Laboratory Test

written by: angiem1981•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 7/8/2010

What do bilirubin test results mean? The results have several implications in the field of medicine. Learn more about this test and how doctors use the information to diagnose medical problems.

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    Test Considerations

    Unlike other tests, there isn’t necessarily a reference range readily available to utilize when considering bilirubin levels in the body. This is because a number of things can affect the results. For example, men generally have higher presence of bilirubin in the blood stream than women and those of African American decent may have lower levels. Therefore, the physician takes into consideration the age, health, race and sex of the patient among many other things when monitoring results of the bilirubin test. Although low levels aren’t of much concern, high levels can be indicative of disease and/or disorder in patients of all ages.

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    High Bilirubin Levels in Infancy

    Increased bilirubin levels in the neonate are not uncommon. However, values should decrease within the first few days of life. When bilirubin remains high, serious complications can ensue. One of the most common disorders seen in the newborn directly related to bilirubin is jaundice. Jaundice causes discoloration of the infant’s skin and eyes to a yellow or orange appearance. While this can go away on its own, medical intervention may be required. This is especially so if bilirubin levels continue to increase as very serious and permanent damage such as the loss of hearing and mental impairments can occur. High levels of bilirubin in the infant can also be indicative of a serious condition called hemolytic disease of the newborn and other disorders of the blood.

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    Childhood Bilirubin Test Results

    Children with higher levels of bilirubin are much less susceptible to the complications presented in the infant with high values but this can still signify a possibly dangerous medical condition. Increased concentrations can mean that the child suffers from various disorders associated with the blood and/or liver. This can include reactions to a blood transfusion, pernicious anemia, sickle cell anemia, hepatitis and blocked bile or liver ducts. There are also disorders in which bilirubin levels will be elevated. These disorders are usually inherited and the physician will typically rule this out before further testing is performed.

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    What do Bilirubin Test Results Mean for an Adult?

    Bilirubin test results for an adult can be quite tricky. As with the child, blood disorders and problems with the bile duct can cause increased levels but so can many other things. One major consideration when it comes to high bilirubin levels in the adult is liver damage or toxicity. Heavy or prolonged drinking and use of certain drugs can cause permanent liver damage, resulting in decreased functioning. When this happens, bilirubin levels will usually increase. Cirrhosis and hepatitis may also be to blame. More common in adults than children are gallstones and other disorders of the gallbladder that may be linked to high bilirubin test results.

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    Other Considerations

    The physician may order a bilirubin test for a variety of causes. Patients exhibiting symptoms of liver disorder and suspicion of alcohol abuse may only be a few of the reasons. Many times, other tests will be ordered to help confirm or diagnose disease or disorder. This may include the liver panel, hepatitis tests and tests related to the function of the liver. Although bilirubin can be present in the urine, the blood test is standard.

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    Bibliography

    Bilirubin: Blood. National Instiute of Health. Medline Plus. 23, February 2009. Viewed 8, July 2010. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003479.htm

    Bilirubin: The Test. Lab Tests Online. 31, May 2008. Viewed 8, July 2010. http://www.labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/bilirubin/test.html