All information on Billirubin

At a glance

In healthy people, bilirubin is found almost only in the blood.

Bilirubin (Latin bilis “gall” and ruber “red”) is a yellow degradation product of the heme content of the red blood dye hemoglobin. Red blood cells have a limited lifespan.

Bilirubin is produced in the feeding cells (macrophages), which eliminate the old red blood cells. This happens to a large extent in the spleen, but also in other feeding cells, which occur in different places in the body.

A very small part of the bilirubin is excreted by the kidneys and provides the characteristic yellowing in the urine.

Further information

The most common causes of higher levels of bilirubin in the urine are damage to the liver (e.g. severe cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis) or blockages of bile flow by gallstones, inflammation or tumors.

Bilirubin levels also rise sharply in severe hemolysis, an increased decay of red blood cells due to dissolution of the cell membrane.

In the liver, the cells absorb bilirubin (without albumin part) and link it to the so-called glucuronic acid. This chemical change is called conjugation. The resulting so-called conjugated bilirubin is well water soluble. This is then excreted via the bile into the intestine.

In healthy people, there is virtually no conjugated bilirubin in the blood and therefore not in the urine.

In some diseases of the liver, the liver cells have problems excreting the conjugated bilirubin into the bile. It then accumulates in the liver cells and passes back into the blood. However, if the concentration of conjugated bilirubin in the blood increases, bilirubin also enters the urine. The conjugated bilirubin goes through the kidney filters into the urine without any problems. If the blood level of the conjugated bilirubin exceeds 2 mg/dl, bilirubin is excreted with the urine via the kidneys.

Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), severe cirrhosis of the liver, poisoning and drug side effects are possible causes for conjugated bilirubin in the blood to increase.

Also if the outflow of bile into the intestine is impeded and a backlog occurs, conjugated bilirubin enters the blood.

For example, these are: inflammatory swelling of the bile ducts, gallstones, tumors or inflammation of the pancreas.

Liver damage is often free of complaints, so that they are often discovered “randomly” during a urine examination.

See also: blood in the urine, urobilinogen, kidney disease


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Status of information: Spring 2020