Liver functions are vital for your life.
Liver diseases are a major cause of death in the UK. According to the statistics published by the UK Government, the incidence of liver diseases in the UK was 124.3 per 100k in 2021. The liver is one of the vital organs of the body alongside the heart, brain and kidneys. It is present just under the stomach on your right side. You can't imagine a healthy life without a healthy liver. How do you know if your liver is functioning efficiently? For this, you should first understand what it does in the body?
What is the role of the liver?
Its functions are vital for you. Although it constitutes only 2% of your total body weight, its presence is very critical for the rest of 98%. It performs several crucial functions inside the body. Some of the important functions are listed below;
It helps in the digestion of food (through the bile which is transported to the intestines by bile ducts).
It metabolizes drugs and medicines
It detoxifies toxins and breaks down alcohol
It regulates blood sugar levels
It helps in blood clotting
It converts glucose into its storage form (glycogen), thus it serves as a storehouse of the extra glucose produced
It stores fat-soluble vitamins e.g., A, D, E and K.
It is also involved in the synthesis of red blood cells
It is in fact, the central point of your body's metabolism and is involved in almost all functions of the body.
What are some signs of liver disease?
If you are in a good health, eating and drinking well, your liver is likely to be in good condition. If however, you are feeling abnormalities in these activities, you need to go to the doctor for advice. But, don't rush, first of all, establish that it is a liver disease. Some signs and symptoms of liver disease are easily noticeable.
Signs and symptoms
The presence of some of these signs reflects some degree of liver damage.
Before going for a liver function test, note the presence of these signs. First of all, if you feel any pain in the right side of your body just under the stomach, your liver is likely to be in trouble. If so, note the presence of some or more of these signs,
Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (water belly)
Fluid retention and swelling in the lower legs
Bruises and blood clots on the skin
Encephalopathy is due to toxin accumulation in the brain leading to disturbed mood, loss of concentration, disturbed sleeping patterns and loss of memory.
Yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice)
Losing weight and decreasing appetite
Always fatigued and tired
If you note these signs, you might want to get a liver function blood test.
Liver function tests- the tools to judge liver health
If one or more of the above symptoms persist, your doctor may ask you to undergo liver function tests (LFTs). An LFT is a blood test that can help you check the functioning of the liver. But, how do these tests work?
The liver is involved in the synthesis of a variety of proteins and enzymes. If your liver is disturbed, the balance of these proteins and enzymes will be disturbed. However, the LFTs can detect if you have;
Liver cirrhosis (scars on the liver) due to a chronic liver disease
Fatty liver disease (either alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease)
Liver infections e.g., hepatitis (A, B, C, etc.).
The liver function tests work by measuring the levels of different liver proteins and enzymes. The target proteins are Albumin and Globulin. Both of these proteins are added to give Total Protein (TP). The liver enzymes used for liver function tests are Gamma-Glutamyl Transpeptidase (GGT), Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH), Alanine Transferases (ALT), Aspartate Transaminase (AST), and Prothrombin Time (PT).
To order a Welzo at-home Liver Function Blood Test, click here.
When to go for a Liver Function Test?
When should you go for an LFT? The LFTs are recommended if you have a history of the above-mentioned diseases or disorders. However, if you are an alcoholic, are diabetic, overweight, or have high blood pressure and excessive iron load (hemochromatosis), it would be wise to check your liver function regularly.
How are these blood tests are conducted?
The first step is to collect the blood sample from your vein. The most preferred site is the vein in the arm near the elbow (cephalic vein). The procedure is a bit painful. After the collection, the blood is transferred to the collection tubes and transported to the laboratory for evaluation. For some tests (e.g., histopathology for fatty liver disease), a small portion of the liver containing live liver cells are removed. This procedure is called a liver biopsy.
For the measurement of prothrombin time, a small amount of blood is collected and the time required for the formation of a clot is estimated.
The lab tests will determine the level of each parameter by using biochemical kits and the results will be dispatched to you.
For more information and our comprehensive guide to blood tests, click here.
What are the normal values of different parameters?
It is the job of a healthcare professional to interpret the liver function test results. However, for reference purposes, the normal values of different parameters are given.
Albumin: 3.4-5.4 grams/decilitre (g/dL)
Globulin: 2.0-3.5 g/dL
Total proteins: 6.3-7.9 g/dL.
Bilirubin: 0.3-1.2 mg/dL
ALT: less than U/L (units per litre)
ALP: 36-150 U/L
GGT: 8-61 U/L (adult males), 5-36 U/L (adult females)
LDH: 60-160 U/L
AST: less than 35 U/L
PT: 9.4-12.5 seconds
These values are for adult men and women. The values however, may change depending upon your age and disease status.
These values are for reference only, and it is the job of your general practitioner (GP) or doctor to determine the treatment you may need. These values will also give you an understanding of how the treatment is going if you are already taking medicines.
What factors influence the LFT values?
Keep in mind that biology is never 100%. A lot of factors can influence the values of these blood tests. So, the results of liver tests are always interpreted in light of your physiological condition. Besides liver diseases, there are a lot of factors which can influence the results of liver function tests. These are;
Some drugs e.g., NSAIDs (aspirin, brufen, paracetamol), steroids (dexamethasone, betamethasone etc), antibiotics, statins, antivirals, antifungals etc. can influence your liver. In fact, every drug metabolized through the liver will influence liver functions at higher doses.
The side effects become even more serious if you consume them with alcohol. If any medicine is known to infect the liver, consult the doctor before using them and regularly undergo LFTs.
If you are a heavy drinker, your liver functions are likely to be disturbed. The alcohol is metabolized through the liver, so excessive heavy drinking can cause the liver to become inflamed. Even if you stop consuming alcohol, the wounds on the liver will leave scars causing liver cirrhosis. Alcohol is thus a major cause of liver failure.
Some foods e.g., salted nuts, refined sugars, fizzy drinks, red meats, trans fats and foods containing saturated fats can also influence your liver functions. Leaving or reducing the intake of these foods will improve liver function.
Obesity may not be a disease, it increases your exposure to various other diseases. Excess fat accumulation in the body can cause the fatty liver syndrome. This condition can cause permanent damage to the liver. A lack of exercise, high-energy sugary foods and hypercholesterolemia are other risk factors.
Given the enormous importance of the liver to you, liver function tests are necessary to know how your liver is going. Before going for LFTs, you should identify various signs and symptoms associated with liver disease. A blood test may not be so unpleasant for you, yet common liver function tests require blood a blood samples.
A healthy liver means a healthy life. Take care of your liver by excellent dietary management, weight loss, regular exercises and improving all other parameters of life.
To order a Welzo at-home Liver Function Blood Test, click here.
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