Testing your liver function may be a good idea if you have a history of liver issues in your family, as some liver conditions can be hereditary. Your doctor may also suggest you get your liver function tested if you have abdominal pain, have a history of hepatitis C, use alcohol regularly, have suspected liver issues, or may be suffering side effects from certain medications, such as cholesterol medicine. This test can be done by drawing a blood sample from a vein in your arms. Your doctor can then help you understand your test results and provide information on how to treat your liver function issues.
EditGetting the Blood Test
- Do not eat the night before the test unless your doctor approves it. Fast for at least 8 hours before the test to ensure the results are accurate. You can drink water, but have no food. Your doctor should discuss the importance of fasting before you take the test.
- Even if your doctor approves eating, you should not drink alcohol the night before the test.
- The blood test should not be too taxing and you should be able to drive yourself home after the test. However, if you’d prefer not to drive after the test, ask someone to drop you off for the test and pick you up.
- Discuss any medications you are taking with your doctor. Let your doctor know about any prescription or over-the-counter medication you are taking. You should also tell your doctor if you are taking any supplements or herbs.
- Medication like oral corticosteroids and ones made to lower your cholesterol can affect the results of the test. Iron supplements and herbal supplements can also skew the results.
- Your doctor may suggest that you abstain from taking medication 1-2 days before the test to avoid skewing the results. Do not stop taking medication unless your doctor suggests that you do this.
- Wear loose clothing to your appointment. Make it easy for you to expose your arms to your doctor or nurse by wearing a short-sleeved shirt or a long sleeved top with arms that can be rolled up.
- Let your doctor or nurse remove a sample of blood from a vein in your arm. Your doctor or nurse will sterilize the injection area with cleaning solution on a piece of gauze. Then, they will inject you with a syringe and draw a small amount of blood into a collection tube attached to the syringe. You may feel a slight sting when the needle is inserted and soreness in the area once the needle is removed.
- If you are uncomfortable with needles, try distracting yourself by chatting with the doctor or nurse. You can also avoid looking at the needle directly so you are less nervous.
- Put pressure on the injection site and let it heal. Your doctor or nurse will provide gauze you can apply on the site to stop any bleeding. Your arm may be sore for a few days but the soreness should fade.
- The needle will leave a small wound at the injection site that should scab over within a few days. If the wound becomes very red, inflamed, or is not scabbing over, go see your doctor.
EditDiscussing the Test Results with Your Doctor
- Meet with your doctor to find out the results within a few hours or days. The test results from your blood sample are usually processed fairly quickly. Your doctor will then contact you to inform you of your test results. They may also set up an office appointment for you to discuss your test results in detail, if necessary.
- Find out if you have any signs of acute or chronic liver damage. Your doctor will run a series of panels on your blood sample to see if you have a high amount of certain enzymes in your blood. High levels of enzymes like Alanine Transaminase (ALT), Aspartate Transaminase (AST), Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) may be a sign that you have liver damage.
- They will also run a panel on your blood sample to determine if you have a low amount of protein in your blood, such as globulin and albumin. Low levels of these proteins can indicate you have liver damage or your liver is not functioning properly.
- High levels of these enzymes and low protein levels may also indicate you have a liver issue like hepatitis or cirrhosis. These conditions are often caused by chronic alcohol consumption.
- Check if your results indicate you have bile duct issue. Your doctor will also run a panel to determine how much bilirubin is in your blood, which is a yellow fluid your body produces in your liver. If you test very high for bilirubin, you may have a malfunctioning bile duct or a blockage in your liver that is causing bilirubin to leak into your blood.
- Bile duct issues can also cause your skin and eyes to appear yellow or jaundiced. In some cases, your urine may appear very dark.
- Do follow up tests with your doctor. Your doctor will evaluate your blood test results as a whole. Depending on your results, they may also order follow up tests like a hepatitis virus test and ultrasound imaging of your liver and gallbladder.
- Your doctor may also monitor your liver function over a period of several weeks and do another blood test to confirm your diagnosis.
- Allow your doctor to take a biopsy of your liver, if needed. In some cases, your doctor may need to take a very small sample of your liver to confirm your diagnosis. A biopsy of your liver is done while you under sedation. The doctor will insert a small biopsy needle into your abdomen or neck to extract a sample of your liver. The sample will be very small and will not affect the functioning of your liver.
- The biopsy is then sent to the lab for analysis. The results of the biopsy will help your doctor determine your diagnosis in more detail.
EditTreating Liver Function Issues
- Make lifestyle and diet changes to treat hepatitis or cirrhosis. Your doctor will recommend you switch to eating a nutritious, balanced diet and if you have cirrhosis, to quit drinking alcohol. They may also suggest you have vitamin and mineral supplements to help your liver recover.
- If you are overweight, your doctor may suggest you lose weight by doing daily exercise and maintain a healthy weight as part of your recovery plan.
- People who have central obesity, meaning they mostly gain weight around their abdomen, also gain weight around their internal organs, including the liver. This can lead to “fatty liver” disease and abnormal liver blood tests. Weight loss will alleviate your symptoms.
- Keep in mind cirrhosis is a progressive disease that will only get worse if you do not make lifestyle and diet changes. You will need to maintain these changes for the remainder of your life to prevent further damage to your liver.
- Take medication to treat liver damage. If your test results show you have acute or chronic liver damage, your doctor may prescribe medication to help your liver function properly. Discuss dosage for these medications with your doctor and never take more than prescribed.
- The type of medication you receive will depend on whether you have acute or chronic liver disease and if you also have bile duct issues.
- You will likely need to take medication along with making lifestyle and diet changes to treat your liver issue effectively.
- Discuss a liver transplant with your doctor if your condition is severe. If your liver is damaged beyond repair, your doctor may suggest a liver transplant. During a liver transplant, your damaged liver is replaced with a functioning liver from a deceased or living donor. You may need to be put on a donor wait list or find out if any family members or friends are a good match and can donate a part of their liver for the procedure.
- Your doctor should outline this procedure in detail for you so you are aware of the risks and possible side effects.
- You will need to take medication to help your new liver regenerate and function well. You will also need to spend 4-6 weeks recovering and check in regularly with your doctor to ensure your new liver is working properly.
- Avoiding the usage of food and alcohol can give you better results.
- Liver transplants are lengthy, and could not always work. Doctors would have to get a liver donor that matches your blood type, and something that your body will accept.
- Avoid alcohol while your liver is strengthening. Alcohol can affect the functions of your new liver.