Q. Ive have had some yellow in my eyes and my skin was yellow. Its better, but I still have some yellow in my eyes.
When I went to my doctor, she ruled out hepatitis and then checked my bilirubin. It was very high. She rechecked it a few weeks later, and it was down but had gone back up a few weeks after that.
What would cause my bilirubin to rise? Can alcohol raise a persons bilirubin to do that? I do have two beers each night after I come home from work, and then I have a bunch on the weekends, so would that do it? M.K.
A. The short answer to your question about whether drinking can cause an increase in bilirubin is yes. It may not be the cause in your case.
The main causes of increased bilirubin in the blood are inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), blockage of the bile ducts, drug-induced retention in the liver, primary biliary cirrhosis, and excessive destruction of blood cells. The first two, hepatitis and bile duct blockage, are by far the most common.
I recommend that you talk with your doctor and ask her to discuss each of these possibilities and what tests are needed to tell one from the other.
But because one of the most common causes of abnormally high levels of bilirubin is the impact of excessive drinking on the liver, and because you drink every day and a bunch every weekend, Ill take the rest of this column to talk about this.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are serious problems. The statistics are shocking. At least 15 million people in the North America are alcoholics or have significant problems because of alcohol use.
Problem drinking means any use of alcohol that significantly harms the person or others. Alcohol abuse means the repetitive use of alcohol to feel better, often to alleviate anxiety or solve other emotional problems.
Alcoholism is a true chemical addiction, evidenced by physiological dependence (withdrawal symptoms when drinking is interrupted), tolerance (the need to increase the dose to obtain the desired effect), and progressive impairment in social and occupational functioning.
Alcoholism is a chronic disease that is rooted in the brain, but it can destroy most organs of the body, especially the liver. The direct cause is obvious the chronic overuse of alcohol. But it is only partially understood why one person becomes addicted but another does not. Genetic and biochemical factors may predispose one to alcoholism, but social and environmental factors also play a role in development of this disorder.
If you choose to deal with your amount of drinking, please understand that it will not be easy. Try not to get discouraged. One of the best ways to begin to help yourself is to share your concerns with someone whom you trust and who would be concerned about your overuse of alcohol.
Admitting to the problem and having available support are two critical elements in dealing with alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Once a person acknowledges the problem and the desire to work on it, support from others with unconditional love is very important.
But its also very important for you, your friends and your family to realize that they are not a therapists, and that many people with a drinking problem will need a well-trained therapist to help overcome their addiction or abusive use.
When you talk with your doctor, I recommend that you also discuss the amount of alcohol you drink and your desire (hopefully) either to quit or cut back dramatically.
Ask your doctor for referral to a mental health specialist if you are willing to commit to getting help. You can also get more information about this from many local organizations, such as your county public health department, or go to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations Web site, www.samhsa.gov.