Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Bilirubin is a waste product released in the blood due to break down of hemoglobin of red blood cells. The liver utilizes bilirubin to form bile, thereby reducing its value in the blood. Bilirubin is excreted through the stool from the body. High levels of bilirubin determine the damage happened to the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Alcohol consumption over the recommended safe limits damages the liver and cause liver scarring, fatty liver, and hepatitis. Complete abstinence of alcohol becomes necessary in severe liver diseases to manage bilirubin in the normal range.

Can Alcohol Cause High Bilirubin Levels?

Bilirubin is a byproduct of the normal breakdown of red blood cells. The levels of bilirubin are regulated by the liver. It converts bilirubin in the conjugated form (soluble form) and supplies to the gallbladder for storage and then bilirubin is excreted through stool. Only a trace amount of bilirubin circulates in the blood.

The normal value of bilirubin in the blood in adults is 1.2 mg/dL. Yellowish discoloration of skin is visible when bilirubin level crosses 3 mg/dL. When bilirubin level exceeds more than the normal range in the blood, the condition is called hyperbilirubinemia.

Alcohol can cause high bilirubin levels. Consumed alcohol is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and intestines and is carried to the liver for detoxification. The liver has the highest concentration of alcohol and it can detoxify only a certain amount of alcohol per hour. Thus alcohol damages the liver most. Recommended safe limit of alcohol in the UK is a maximum of 14 units in a week.

Too much consumption of alcohol over recommended limits leads to damage in the liver by the development of scars and fibrosed tissues. This result in malfunctioning of liver and can cause liver cirrhosis if not managed properly. This improper functioning of the liver can lead to accumulation of bilirubin in the blood due to reduced metabolism.

The Main Three Liver Diseases Caused By Heavy Alcohol Consumption Are Following-

Alcoholic Fatty Liver- heavy alcohol drinkers develop a high accumulation of fat within liver cells. However, fatty liver does not represent serious illness and symptoms. One can reverse fatty liver by complete abstinence from alcohol. But in some people, the fatty liver disease may proceed to alcoholic hepatitis.

Alcoholic Hepatitis- alcoholic hepatitis is characterized by inflammation of the liver caused to heavy intake of alcohol. Mild hepatitis does not represent any significant symptoms whereas severe hepatitis represents symptoms like nausea, jaundice (yellowish coloration of the skin, eyes, and nails caused by elevated levels of bilirubin), abdominal pain and tiredness. It can be easily detected by blood test. In some cases, if alcoholic hepatitis persists, the liver gets extensively damaged and proceeds to liver cirrhosis. A severe most type of alcoholic hepatitis can result in liver failure and eventually death if not managed properly.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis- alcoholic cirrhosis is a condition characterized by replacement of normal liver tissue by scar tissue due to over intake of alcohol. This scar formation takes place gradually over the span of years. Scarring greatly impacts the normal regeneration feature of the liver tissues. Scar tissues cause damage and eventually death of the normal liver tissues. Thus, the liver cannot function properly and bilirubin gets accumulated in the blood. 1 in 10 heavy alcoholics tends to develop cirrhosis which can cause end-stage liver disease. Scarring resulted from cirrhosis remains permanent and cannot be reversed.

Abstinence from alcohol will help the patient to improve the condition of the liver with other measures of treatment adopted by their physician.

Conclusion

Bilirubin is a byproduct formed with the catabolism of hemoglobin in our body. The levels of bilirubin determine the health of the liver. Consumption of alcohol over the recommended safe limit can cause the rise in the bilirubin levels. It damages the liver adversely with other health problems, causing fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis, eventually leading to death. Cessation of alcohol can improve the health of the liver.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: July 27, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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