Liver function tests: What they reveal about your health

You’ll breathe, you’ll walk, you’ll go about doing everything you want to without knowing that there may be something wrong within the body. 

Although it does happen seldom, it does happen. That’s why it’s essential that you take care of your body organs, not just the heart and brain but also the liver.  But how do you do that? How do you ensure that your liver is working fine? 

Tests are the answer – to be specific, liver function tests. The liver, often referred to as the body’s chemical factory, is a powerhouse organ responsible for a myriad of vital functions. 

To assess the health of this crucial organ, healthcare professionals often rely on liver function tests (LFTs). These tests provide valuable insights into the liver’s well-being and can help identify potential issues early on.

 We will learn more about liver function tests to explore what they reveal about your health and answer common questions surrounding these diagnostic tools.

Understanding liver function tests

Liver function tests are a series of blood tests designed to assess the health and functionality of the liver. These tests measure various enzymes, proteins, and substances that indicate how well the liver is performing its essential tasks.

Common liver function tests:

Alanine Transaminase (ALT): 

Elevated levels may indicate liver damage or inflammation.

Aspartate Transaminase (AST): 

Similar to ALT, elevated AST levels can signal liver dysfunction.

Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP):

 Elevated levels may suggest liver or bone issues.

Bilirubin:

 High levels can indicate problems with bile flow or liver function.

Albumin and Total Protein: 

Low levels may indicate chronic liver disease.

What liver function tests reveal:

Liver inflammation or damage:

ALT and AST Levels: 

Increased levels may suggest inflammation, infection, or injury to liver cells.

 Bile flow and liver health:

Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) Levels:

 Elevated ALP may indicate issues with bile flow, liver disease, or bone disorders.

 Bilirubin levels:

Elevated bilirubin may be a sign of liver disease, hemolysis, or bile duct obstruction.

 Synthetic Function:

Albumin and Total Protein:

 These indicate the liver’s ability to produce proteins, with low levels suggesting liver dysfunction.

Do normal levels guarantee a healthy liver?

While normal results are reassuring, some liver conditions may not manifest with elevated enzymes initially. Further testing is required in this case.

What do I need to do to prepare for the test? 

Fasting:

In many cases, fasting is not required for routine liver function tests. However, specific tests like gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) may benefit from fasting. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions regarding fasting, if any.

Medication review:

Inform your healthcare provider about all medications, supplements, or herbal remedies you are taking. Certain drugs can affect liver function test results, so your healthcare provider may adjust your medication schedule if necessary.

Alcohol abstinence:

Avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours before the test. Alcohol can influence liver enzyme levels and may impact the accuracy of the results.

Hydration:

Staying well-hydrated is generally advisable before a blood test. Drinking water can make it easier for the healthcare professional to draw blood and ensure accurate results.

Inform your doctor:

Notify your healthcare provider of any pre-existing conditions, allergies, or recent illnesses. Certain medical conditions and infections can affect liver function, and this information helps in the interpretation of test results.

Dress comfortably:

Wear a short-sleeved shirt or clothing with sleeves that can be easily rolled up. This facilitates quick and convenient access to the veins for blood collection.

Relaxation:

Minimise stress and anxiety, as these factors can temporarily affect certain blood parameters. Practice relaxation techniques if needed, and inform the healthcare provider if you are particularly anxious about the test.

Follow instructions:

Carefully follow any specific instructions provided by your healthcare provider. This may include information about when to take medications, any dietary restrictions, or additional precautions.

Closing thoughts

Liver function tests are invaluable tools for evaluating the health of your liver. Regular monitoring allows for the early detection of potential issues, enabling you to take the right steps at the right time. While LFTs provide essential information, they are just one piece of the puzzle. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, is key to maintaining optimal liver function.

Remember, if you have concerns about your liver health or if you experience symptoms such as persistent fatigue, jaundice, or abdominal pain, consult with your healthcare provider.  Not to mention, a doctor is the right person to analyse your test results. They will provide you with the diagnosis and treatment plan if there need be.

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