You should not eat or drink for at least 4 hours before the test. Your health care provider may instruct you to stop taking medicines that affect the test.
Many drugs may change the bilirubin level in your blood. Make sure your provider knows which medicines you are taking.
Why the Test is Performed
A small amount of older red blood cells are replaced by new blood cells every day. Bilirubin is left after these older blood cells are removed. The liver helps break down bilirubin so that it can be removed from the body in the stool.
A high level of bilirubin in the blood can lead to jaundice. Jaundice is a yellow color in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes.
Jaundice is the most common reason to check bilirubin level. The test will likely be ordered when:
The provider is concerned about a newborn's jaundice (most newborns have some jaundice)
Jaundice develops in older infants, children, and adults
A bilirubin test is also ordered when the provider suspects a person has liver or gallbladder problems.
It is normal to have some bilirubin in the blood. A normal level is:
Direct (also called conjugated) bilirubin: 0 to 0.3 mg/dL
Total bilirubin: 0.3 to 1.9 mg/dL
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or may test different samples. Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean
In newborns, bilirubin level is higher for the first few days of life. Your child's provider must consider the following when deciding whether your baby's bilirubin level is too high:
How fast the level has been rising
Whether the baby was born early
The baby's age
Jaundice can also occur when more red blood cells than normal are broken down. This can be caused by:
Ives NK, Mieli-Vergani G, Hadzic N, Newell S, Sugarman I. Gastroenterology. In: Rennie JM, ed. Rennie and Robsertson's Textbook of Neonatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2012:chap 29.
Pratt DS. Liver chemistry and function tests. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 73.
Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.