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Bilirubin Total

Also Known as: Total Serum Bilirubin, TSB, Total Bilirubin

What is a total bilirubin test?

The amount of bilirubin in your blood is measured by a bilirubin blood test. Bilirubin is a yellowish substance produced by the body during the normal breakdown of red blood cells. Bilirubin is a pigment present in bile, a fluid produced by your liver that aids digestion. Your liver will remove the majority of bilirubin from your body if it is healthy. Bilirubin can leak out of your liver and into your blood if your liver is damaged. When too much bilirubin is absorbed into the bloodstream, it can cause jaundice which is characterized by a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes. Jaundice symptoms, as well as a bilirubin blood test, can assist your healthcare provider to determine the health of your liver or monitoring problems with your liver or red blood cells.

A total bilirubin test includes conjugated and unconjugated bilirubin. Unconjugated bilirubin is sometimes referred to as indirect bilirubin, while conjugated bilirubin is sometimes called direct bilirubin, due to the uniqueness of the analytical measurement of bilirubin.

What is the test used for?

A bilirubin blood test is performed to assess the health of your liver. The test is often used to diagnose jaundice in newborns (neonatal jaundice) which normally occurs because their livers aren't mature enough to get rid of enough bilirubin. Jaundice in newborns is normally harmless and resolves within a few weeks. However, because excessive bilirubin levels might cause brain damage (kernicterus) in some cases, infants are frequently screened as a precaution.

A bilirubin blood test can also assist your healthcare provider in diagnosing other conditions such as Hepatitis, cirrhosis, gallbladder disease, and hemolytic anemia. 

Why and when do you need this test?

A bilirubin blood test may be ordered by your healthcare provider:

  • If you experience symptoms like jaundice, dark urine, or stomach pain which may indicate Hepatitis, cirrhosis, and other liver diseases.
  • To see if the structures that carry bile from your liver are blocked 
  • To monitor  a pre-existing condition or illness of the liver
  • To diagnose diseases including problems in red blood cell production. High blood bilirubin levels can also be a sign of an underlying problem in the gallbladder or a condition called hemolytic anemia.

What kind of sample is required for the test?

A small needle will be used by a healthcare provider to obtain a blood sample from a vein in your arm.  A small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial once the needle is inserted. When the needle goes in or out, it may sting a little. It normally takes less than five minutes to complete this process.

Do you need to prepare for the test?

A bilirubin blood test does not require any specific preparation. You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for several hours before the test as directed by your healthcare provider if he has ordered other blood tests along. If there are any special instructions to follow, your health care provider will inform you.

Are there any risks to this test?

Having a blood test carries relatively little risk. You may experience little pain or bruising where the needle was inserted, but most symptoms disappear quickly.

What do the test results mean?

Although normal findings can vary, excessive bilirubin levels can indicate that your liver isn't functioning properly. Abnormal results, on the other hand, may not always indicate a medical issue that requires treatment. Medication, certain meals, and strenuous exercise can all induce higher-than-normal bilirubin levels. Should you have any questions regarding your test results it is always recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider. 

It is common for infants to have higher bilirubin levels in their blood after birth as their livers are still in the development phase. As a result, bilirubin testing is required for all infants in their first 48 hours after birth, and it is frequently done as a precaution to monitor changes in these levels. If you're worried about your baby's bilirubin levels or if he or she is exhibiting symptoms of jaundice, you should consult your pediatrician specialist

Related tests: Direct bilirubin, indirect bilirubin, liver function tests

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