All About Liver Tests

in Blog, Liver Information

liver tests

Because liver cancer and diseases such as cirrhosis rarely have symptoms until they are in advanced stages, it’s extremely important to get your liver tested regularly. Most of these tests are painless and only take a few minutes.

Frequently, your doctor will do a combination of liver tests especially if you are having symptoms or are considered at risk for liver disease or cancer.

You should have your liver tested if you:

• Are Male, aged 50-60 and of Hispanic, Island Pacific, Asian or Native American

• Have a history of alcohol abuse

• Have jaundice, or yellowing of the skin or eyes

• Have a distended and/or tender abdomen

• Have an auto-immune disorder

• Have Hepatitis

• Bruise or bleed easily

In the following paragraphs, you will learn about the different kinds of liver tests and what to expect when you undergo them.

Liver Ultrasound

A liver ultrasound is extremely simple. You won’t have to take any medications prior to this liver test because an ultrasound is completely non-invasive. The doctor or tech will simply use a hand-held device that emits sound waves to produce pictures of your liver and kidney.

A liver ultrasound is used to check for a fatty liver, liver cysts or masses and the reason that the doctor does an ultrasound on the kidney is for comparison. If the liver is much brighter on the image than the kidney, it’s fatty. Since a liver ultrasound uses sound waves, there’s no exposure to any kind of radiation.

MRI Scans and CAT Scans

Your doctor may want to do a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan in order to search for masses or to get a better image of a fatty liver. The MRI gives a better picture and does not expose you to any radiation. This test won’t be done in your doctor’s office because the equipment is extremely expensive.

MRE Scan

A magnetic resonance elastography (MRE or liver elastogram) is brand new technology invented by imaging researchers at the Mayo Clinic that is used to scan the liver for very early signs of liver disease. Toxins, fat and infections can cause inflammation and damage to the liver which causes scar tissue.

If left untreated, this tissue will grow, harden into fibrosis and cause cirrhosis, which isn’t reversible. The test is also used to spare some patients from a liver biopsy. Because it’s difficult to diagnose liver disease early, this machine represents a technological and diagnostic breakthrough.

Liver Function Blood Tests

A blood test can only detect damage to the liver, not actual function. The tests aren’t really reliable because they don’t always detect a problem even if there is one and sometimes liver enzymes will be elevated for reasons other than liver problems. Because of this, the tests are usually just a jumping-off point and are usually used in conjunction with other methods.

The blood test checks two things:

Total Bilirubin – this part of the test measures the level of bile pigment in the blood. If your bilirubin is elevated, you may have jaundice.

Liver Enzymes – there are several different enzyme levels that are tested. Normally, the enzymes are located only in the liver cells and only leak out if there’s damage to the liver.

The following enzymes are tested:

AST – These used to be called SGOT and elevated levels are not necessarily indicative of liver disease. They may also be elevated if there’s a muscle or heart issue.

ALP – is elevated in many different kinds of liver disease but can also be indicative of another problem.

GGT – this enzyme will frequently be elevated if you abuse alcohol or consume other chemicals that are toxic to your liver.

ALT – formerly known as SGPT this enzyme is more specifically indicative of liver problems if elevated.

Blood Protein – These proteins are made in the liver and the liver test measures their levels as another indication of liver function.

As you can see, these liver tests are only good for indicating that there MIGHT be a problem and are in no way a positive indication of low liver function due to disease. There are several other things that your doctor may test including glucose levels, triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels.

Liver Biopsy

Finally, your doctor may decide to do a liver biopsy. This test is invasive and involves removing a small piece of your liver so that it may be tested for fatty deposits, fibrosis, cancer, or other diseases. This should be a last resort.

With the exception of the biopsy, liver tests are non-invasive, painless and may save your life by catching liver disease in it’s early stages. If you’re at risk, make sure that you get tested because in the case of liver disease or liver cancer, sooner is always better and might be the difference between life and death.

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