Abnormal Liver Tests
Abnormal liver test results can indicate a problem with the liver or with the function of the liver. Common causes of abnormal liver tests include viral hepatitis, alcohol-related liver disease, fatty liver disease, and certain medications.
There are several types of liver tests, including:
- Alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST): these enzymes are found in liver cells and can leak out into the blood stream when the liver is injured. Elevated levels of these enzymes can indicate liver inflammation or damage.
- Alkaline phosphatase (ALP): this enzyme is found in the bile ducts, liver, and bone. Elevated levels can indicate blockage in the bile ducts or bone disease, but it can also be elevated in liver disease.
- Bilirubin: this substance is a breakdown product of red blood cells and the main component of bile. Elevated levels can indicate a problem with the liver’s ability to process bilirubin, such as in liver disease, impaired bile flow or bile duct blockage.
- Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT): this enzyme is found in the liver and bile ducts. Elevated levels can indicate liver or bile duct damage, but it can also be elevated by alcohol consumption.
- Albumin: this is a protein made by the liver and if the liver is damaged, it can’t make enough of it, so low levels can be a sign of liver disease.
It’s important to note that an abnormal liver test result doesn’t always indicate a serious problem, but it may require further testing to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
There are many different causes of abnormal liver test results, and the specific cause will depend on the specific test results and the patient’s medical history. Some common causes of abnormal liver test results include:
- Viral hepatitis: hepatitis A, B, and C are viral infections that can cause inflammation and damage to the liver.
- Alcohol-related liver disease: chronic heavy alcohol consumption can cause liver damage and lead to conditions such as fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
- Fatty liver disease: the build-up of fat in the liver, which can be caused by obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic conditions.
- Medications: some medications can cause liver damage, including acetaminophen, antibiotics, and statins (cholesterol lowering medications).
- Autoimmune hepatitis: a rare condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the liver, causing inflammation and damage.
- Hemochromatosis: a genetic disorder that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron, which can lead to liver damage.
- Wilson’s disease: a rare genetic disorder that causes the body to retain too much copper, which can lead to liver damage.
- Cancer: liver cancer or metastasis (spread) of cancer to the liver can cause abnormal liver tests.
- Acute liver injury: this can be caused by various factors such as drug induced, toxin-induced, viral hepatitis, ischemic injury.
It’s important to note that there are many other potential causes of abnormal liver test results, and the specific cause will depend on the individual case. Consultation with a healthcare provider is important to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
The evaluation of abnormal liver test results will depend on the specific test results and the patient’s symptoms. Some possible steps in the evaluation process include:
- Reviewing the patient’s medical history, including any medications or supplements they are taking, and any recent illnesses or exposures.
- Conducting a physical examination to look for signs of liver disease, such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), an enlarged liver, or spider angiomas (small red blood vessels on the skin).
- Repeat liver function test, in some cases, liver tests may be repeated to confirm that the results are abnormal and to see if the levels have changed over time.
- Imaging studies such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be performed to visualize the liver and detect any structural abnormalities such as a mass or cyst.
- Viral hepatitis serology, hepatitis B and C serology is important to rule out as they are common causes of liver disease.
- Additional blood tests may be performed to evaluate for other conditions that can cause abnormal liver tests, such as autoimmune hepatitis, hemochromatosis, or Wilson’s disease.
It’s important to note that the evaluation process will vary depending on the individual case and the specific abnormal test results. It is important to follow the instructions of your healthcare provider for the best management plan.
Symptoms of abnormal liver tests can vary depending on the cause and severity of the condition. Some common symptoms include fatigue, weakness, abdominal pain, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting.
Treatment for abnormal liver test results will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Some common treatments include antiviral medications for viral hepatitis, lifestyle changes such as reducing alcohol consumption or losing weight for fatty liver disease, or medications to manage symptoms for autoimmune hepatitis or Wilson’s disease.
The length of time it takes for liver test results to return to normal will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. In some cases, liver function may improve quickly with treatment, while in other cases it may take several months or longer for the liver to heal.
Abnormal liver test results can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Some of the complications of liver disease include cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.
Yes, chronic heavy alcohol consumption can cause liver damage and lead to conditions such as fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and cirrhosis, which can result in abnormal liver test results.
Yes, some medications can cause liver damage and lead to abnormal liver test results. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any medications you are taking and their potential side effects.
It is important to consult with your healthcare provider if you have abnormal liver test results. They will help to determine the cause and appropriate treatment. Even if the cause is not serious, it is important to address the underlying issue to prevent further damage to the liver.
Yes, making lifestyle changes such as reducing alcohol consumption, losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise can help to improve abnormal liver test results, especially in cases of fatty liver disease or alcohol-related liver disease.
Your healthcare provider will advise on how often you should have liver tests. Regular monitoring of liver test results is important to track the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of treatment.
Some causes of abnormal liver test results, such as genetic disorders, cannot be prevented. However, others such as viral hepatitis, alcohol-related liver disease and fatty liver disease can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure (hand washing, avoid drug use, safe sex practices etc.) to viruses that cause hepatitis, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy weight.
The best way to take care of your liver if your test results are abnormal will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Your healthcare provider will provide you with specific recommendations, but in general, it is important to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, avoid alcohol and toxic substances, and take any medications or supplements as prescribed.