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What is considered high bilirubin?

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Quick Answer

A high total bilirubin count is above 1.4 milligrams per deciliter for adults. Direct bilirubin counts above 0.3 milligrams per deciliter or indirect bilirubin of 1.2 milligrams per liter are also high. WebMD warns patients that these numbers are reference ranges and that their lab may use different values.

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Full Answer

In newborns, the value for a high bilirubin value varies based on the age of the child. Values for premature babies differ from those born full-term. As with adults, WebMD indicates high counts vary by lab.

Bilirubin is a brownish yellow substance found in bile. The liver produces bilirubin as it breaks down red blood cells, according to WebMD. Indirect or unconjugated bilirubin is not soluble in water and travels to the liver through the bloodstream. The liver converts it to conjugated or direct bilirubin, which is soluble in water. Laboratories measure total and direct bilirubin using a blood sample. They calculate the indirect bilirubin from the two measured values.

High bilirubin levels cause jaundice, resulting in the skin and whites of the eyes turning yellow. In newborns, mild jaundice usually does not cause problems, but high bilirubin levels can cause brain damage and other problems, according to WebMD. In adults, high bilirubin counts sometimes indicate liver disease or blockage of the bile duct. It sometimes signals an increase in the destruction of red blood cells.

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