Conjugated Hyperbilirubinemia Clinical Presentation

Updated: Aug 31, 2021
  • Author: Heba Rashid Ashraf, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Clinical evaluation of those with suspected conjugated hyperbilirubinemia always starts with obtaining a full history.

Potential toxins (eg, drugs), environmental chemicals (eg, solvents), or wild mushrooms must be carefully excluded. Failure to promptly diagnose toxic hepatitis may result in hepatic failure and death.

Risk factors for viral hepatitis should be elicited. Possible risk factors include the following:

  • Transfusion

  • Intravenous (IV) drug use

  • Multiple sexual partners

  • Exposure to a person who is infected

Also note the following:

  • Colicky abdominal pain or fever suggests gallstone disease.

  • Weight loss or constitutional systems suggests malignancy or chronic infection.

  • Recent anesthesia with the use of halothane suggests halothane hepatitis.

  • A history of pruritus suggests cholestatic disease resulting from biliary obstruction or intrahepatic cholestasis.

  • A family history of jaundice suggests inborn errors of bilirubin metabolism.

  • In patients with severe intercurrent illnesses, consider sepsis, hepatic ischemia, and opportunistic infections.

  • Severe right heart failure or tricuspid insufficiency with hepatomegaly suggests hepatic congestion.

  • Patients on parenteral nutrition may experience cholestasis that sometimes improves with the addition of lipid infusions.

  • Patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) may experience biliary obstruction from opportunistic infections (eg, AIDS cholangiopathy).

  • Patients with chronic liver disease may experience transient elevation of their bilirubin levels following blood transfusion, which is due to the more rapid turnover of the infused cells.

  • In patients younger than 20-25 years, a history of a recent flulike syndrome treated with aspirin raises the possibility of Reye syndrome.

  • Pregnancy suggests benign recurrent cholestasis or, in late pregnancy, acute fatty liver of pregnancy.


Physical Examination

The first manifestation in cases of conjugated hyperbilirubinemia is commonly a brownish discoloration of the urine. Although scleral icterus may also be present, this typically reflects the unconjugated fraction of bilirubin that binds tissues much more avidly.

If sufficient unconjugated bilirubin is present, the skin, sclerae, and mucous membranes take on a yellow color, although this may be difficult to detect if the tissues are pigmented naturally.

Depending on the underlying illness, stigmata of chronic liver disease may or may not be present.

Palpation of the abdomen may reveal the following:

  • A mass (eg, a distended gallbladder, abdominal tumors)

  • Tenderness over the liver (eg, as in cases of hepatitis or hepatic distention resulting from congestion or infiltrative disease)

  • Tenderness over the gallbladder fossa (as occurs in cases of biliary disease or infection)

In cases of biliary obstruction or stasis, stool may be acholic and light gray.

Unexplained darkening of the skin, diabetes, or heart failure suggests hemochromatosis.

Kaiser-Fleisher rings (accompanied with a low serum ceruloplasmin concentration) suggests Wilson disease.

Cutaneous or neurologic findings of chronic alcoholism may be helpful diagnostic findings.