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Bilirubin Test

What is the bilirubin test?

The bilirubin test is a way to find out how much bilirubin is in the blood. Bilirubin is a substance that is made each day as red blood cells break down. Normally the liver removes bilirubin from the blood. The bilirubin moves through the liver and then into the digestive system in a fluid called bile.

Why is this test done?

A high level of bilirubin can be caused by problems with the liver, the digestive system, or red blood cells. When there is a lot of bilirubin in the blood, the skin and whites of the eyes get yellow. The yellow color of the skin and eyes is called jaundice. Your skin may itch and your urine may be dark yellow or brown.

This test may be done to:

  • Check the level of bilirubin if your baby has jaundice. Blood tests for jaundice are more accurate than skin tests for jaundice.
  • See how well the liver or other parts of the digestive system are working
  • Check for certain blood problems, such as some types of anemia, where the red blood cells are breaking down faster than normal

How do I prepare my child for this test?

  • Your child may need to avoid taking certain medicines before the test because they might affect the test result. Make sure your child’s healthcare provider knows about any medicines, herbs, or supplements that your child is taking. Ask your healthcare provider before stopping any of your child’s regular medicines.
  • Talk to your child’s healthcare provider if you have any questions about the test.

How is the test done?

Having this test will take just a few minutes. A small amount of blood may be taken from a vein in your child’s arm with a needle. For newborns, the blood sample may be taken from the heel. The blood is collected in tubes and sent to a lab.

Ask your healthcare provider when and how you will get the result of the test.

What does the test result mean?

Your child’s level of bilirubin may be higher than normal because:

  • Your newborn has jaundice. Newborn jaundice is very common during the first week of life because the baby's liver is not mature.
  • Your child is taking a medicine that raises the bilirubin level in your child’s blood.
  • Your child has an infection.
  • Your child has a liver or digestive system disease, such as hepatitis or gallstones.
  • Your child has a blood problem, such as anemia.
  • Your child has Gilbert's syndrome. Gilbert's syndrome is a harmless genetic condition that causes no symptoms other than mild jaundice.

What if the test result is not normal?

Test results are only one part of a larger picture that takes into account your child’s medical history, physical exam, and current health. Sometimes a test needs to be repeated to check the first result. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider about the test result and ask questions, such as:

  • If your child needs more tests
  • What kind of treatment your child might need
  • What lifestyle, diet, or other changes your child might need to make
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-05
Last reviewed: 2014-02-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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