Gilbert's Syndrome and Alcohol Consumption
In This Article
What is Gilbert's Syndrome?
Gilbert’s syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs when the liver cannot properly process bilirubin.
Bilirubin is a normal by-product of the breakdown of red blood cells (RBCs). For adults, total bilirubin levels of 1.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are standard. But excess bilirubin can be toxic when the body is exposed to prolonged build-up for a long time. The condition is called hyperbilirubinemia.
The body breaks down bilirubin through enzyme reactions in the liver. However, persons with Gilbert's syndrome cannot complete this reaction because of a genetic defect in their liver enzymes.
In some cases, higher bilirubin levels caused by Gilbert’s syndrome can lead to mild jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
There is a causal link between excessive alcohol consumption and the worsening of the symptoms of Gilbert's syndrome. Jaundice is the most common. These symptoms can worsen from drinking alcohol, much like side effects from taking medications.
Causes of Gilbert's Syndrome
Gilbert’s syndrome affects about 3 to 7 percent of the population. It is an inherited disorder caused by an abnormal UGT1A1 gene. People with this mutated gene can only produce 30% of the enzymes that properly break down bilirubin. Without a properly functioning UGT1A1 gene, the bloodstream will contain excess bilirubin as it cannot eliminate it.
While alcohol does not cause this genetic condition, it can cause symptoms to appear, as bilirubin levels tend to elevate after excessive alcohol consumption.
Symptoms of Gilbert's Syndrome
Symptoms of Gilbert's syndrome are typically mild and may include:
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (familial nonhemolytic jaundice)
- Loss of appetite
- Upset stomach or abdominal pain
- Concentration issues
Can You Drink Alcohol with Gilbert's Syndrome?
It is possible to drink with Gilbert’s Syndrome, but many people with this condition find that alcohol worsens their symptoms. For some, even one alcoholic drink can lead to dark-colored urine, flu-like symptoms, a painful digestive tract, or pronounced dizziness.
Since both bilirubin and alcohol are broken down in the liver, those with Gilbert’s syndrome may find processing even small amounts of alcohol difficult.
The effects of alcohol may also last for an extended period. Many individuals with Gilbert’s syndrome experience hangover symptoms for several days after consuming as little as one or two drinks.
Risk Factors: Is Gilbert’s Syndrome Dangerous?
Gilbert's syndrome is a common condition, although most people may not have initial symptoms. It can cause uncomfortable symptoms, especially after alcohol consumption, but does not pose a significant health threat.
Gilbert's syndrome is a lifelong condition. However, it does not threaten health or increase the risk of liver disease.
A doctor may request blood tests like liver enzymes and blood proteins to diagnose Gilbert's syndrome. In Gilbert's syndrome, these results may be normal except for bilirubin levels, which will be slightly elevated. A genetic test provides a conclusive diagnosis of the defective gene.
Treatment for Gilbert’s Syndrome
Gilbert’s syndrome is often diagnosed at the onset of puberty, but it can also present later in life. Routine blood test results that reveal high bilirubin levels may prompt further genetic tests to rule out this condition.
In most cases, Gilbert’s syndrome does not require treatment, but there are several things to do to lessen unwanted symptoms, including:
- Sleeping more
- Minimizing long, intense workouts
- Proper hydration
- Meditation or breathing exercises
- Eating right
- Avoiding alcohol consumption
How to Manage Gilbert's Syndrome
Specific Gilbert’s syndrome symptoms can usually be managed well. Acute episodes of jaundice and other uncomfortable symptoms typically pass quickly and without treatment.
Changing your diet and exercise routine will not cure the condition, but it will help manage it and reduce the onset of certain symptoms. Avoiding alcohol is also beneficial in managing Gilbert’s syndrome, though some people are more affected by alcohol than others.
It is essential to seek medical advice before attempting to manage the symptoms of Gilbert’s Syndrome on your own.
Gilbert's Syndrome Statistics
Of the American Population has Gilbert's Syndrome.
Of people with Gilbert's Syndrome have no symptoms.
Chance of passing the gene for Gilbert's Syndrome to a child if the parents are carriers.
Gilbert's Syndrome: Questions and Answers
What medications should be avoided with Gilbert's syndrome?
Some drugs you should avoid taking if you have Gilbert's syndrome include HIV medications (atazanavir and indinavir), cholesterol medications (gemfibrozil and statins), bowel cancer medicine (irinotecan), and blood cancer medicine (nilotinib).
Speak with your doctor for a complete, up-to-date list of all medications that interact with Gilbert's syndrome.
Does Gilbert's syndrome make you tired?
Fatigue, dizziness, and tiredness are common symptoms of Gilbert's syndrome. However, jaundice (yellowing of the skin) is the most common symptom.
Can Gilbert's cause liver damage?
No, Gilbert's syndrome does not increase your liver damage or liver disease risk. The condition is lifelong but does not pose any significant threats to your health.
Can Gilbert's syndrome cause anxiety?
It can. People with Gilbert's syndrome may experience symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
Does Gilbert's syndrome go away?
Gilbert's syndrome does not go away; it is a minor, lifelong condition that doesn't require treatment.
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- O'Malley, Stephanie S et al. “Acute alcohol consumption elevates serum bilirubin: an endogenous antioxidant.” Drug and alcohol dependence vol. 149 : 87-92. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.01.023 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540054/
- National Institute of Health. “Gilbert Syndrome.” NIH https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/gilbert-syndrome#genes
- Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. “Gilbert Syndrome.” GARD https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6507/gilbert-syndrome#:~:text=Most%20people%20with%20Gilbert%20syndrome,weakness%2C%20nausea%2C%20or%20diarrhea.
- “Gilbert Syndrome.” NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders), 1 Aug. 2016, rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/gilbert-syndrome/.
- “Gilbert Syndrome: MedlinePlus Genetics.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Aug. 2020, medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/gilbert-syndrome/.
- Shiels, Ryan G, et al. “Diagnostic Criteria and Contributors to Gilbert's Syndrome.” Taylor & Francis, Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences , 12 Jan. 2018, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408363.2018.1428526.