People with Gilbert's syndrome inherit a mutated gene that affects the liver’s ability to process bilirubin, a waste product that forms during the breakdown of old red blood cells. Jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes) occurs when too much bilirubin builds up in blood. Because this liver disease doesn’t cause serious problems, treatment isn’t necessary.
Gilbert's syndrome is an inherited (genetic) liver disorder that affects the body’s ability to process bilirubin. Bilirubin is yellow liquid waste that occurs naturally as the body breaks down old red blood cells.
People with Gilbert's syndrome don’t produce enough liver enzymes to keep bilirubin at a normal level. As a result, excess bilirubin builds up in the body. Excess bilirubin is known as hyperbilirubinemia.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Bilirubin is found in bile, a digestive liquid produced by the liver that helps the body absorb fat. Your liver is part of the digestive system. It filters toxins from blood, digests fats and stores glucose (a blood sugar) as glycogen to use for energy.
An estimated 3% to 7% of Americans have Gilbert's syndrome. This type of liver disease is more common in males than in females. It affects all ages, races and ethnicities.
Gilbert's syndrome is genetic, meaning it’s passed down from parent to child through a change, or mutation, in a gene. People with Gilbert's syndrome inherit a mutated UGT1A1 gene.
A healthy UGT1A1 gene makes liver enzymes that break down bilirubin and remove it from the body. People with a mutated UGT1A1 gene only make about 30% of the enzymes they need. As a result, bilirubin doesn’t move into bile the way it should. The excess bilirubin builds up in blood.
Approximately 1 in 3 people with Gilbert's syndrome don’t have symptoms. They learn that they have the disease after getting blood tests to check for a different problem.
Among those with symptoms, the most common sign is jaundice, brought on by elevated levels of bilirubin in blood. Jaundice can turn your skin and whites of the eyes yellow, but it isn’t harmful.
Occasionally, people who have jaundice or Gilbert's syndrome also experience:
These things can raise bilirubin levels in people with Gilbert's syndrome, leading to jaundice:
As a genetic condition, Gilbert's syndrome is present at birth. It often remains undiagnosed until blood tests detect high bilirubin levels. Diagnosis most commonly occurs when people are in their teens or early adulthood and getting blood tests for something else.
In addition to blood tests, you may get:
Gilbert's syndrome is a mild condition. It doesn’t cause long-term complications or serious health problems.
Jaundice can cause a yellowish appearance that may be unsettling. However, jaundice and Gilbert's syndrome don’t require treatment.
Because Gilbert's syndrome is inherited, you can’t prevent it.
People with Gilbert's syndrome can lead long, healthy lives. They don’t experience long-term health problems from the disease.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Gilbert's syndrome is a mild disorder that doesn’t require treatment. While occasional yellowish eyes and skin may be unsettling, jaundice doesn’t pose any health risks. This skin and eye coloration will go away on its own. Your healthcare provider can suggest ways to reduce episodes of jaundice associated with Gilbert's syndrome.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/06/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.