Liver Function Tests
If you or your loved one is abusing alcohol it may be taking a serious physical toll on your body. Alcohol is essentially a poison which the liver has to deal with, which puts it at significant risk if it receives large and frequent doses. Doctors may suggest liver function tests to alcoholics, because problems such as cirrhosis and hepatitis are common in heavy drinkers and can have serious consequences. Finding out about the basics of liver function tests can give you an understanding of what to expect and how different conclusions are drawn based on the results.
A liver function test is essentially a blood test in which the levels of different chemicals (related to various processes within the liver) are measured. On an ordinary test, the levels of alanine transaminase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), albumin, bilirubin and overall protein are checked to determine the state of the liver. In some cases, other tests such as a blood clotting test or a gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) test are undertaken to confirm a specific diagnosis.
The levels of ALT and AST are often useful in cases of alcohol-related liver disease. They basically tell the physician the degree of inflammation of the liver, because their concentration within the blood is greater when the organ’s cells are damaged. If the levels of these chemicals are extremely elevated it may be an indicator that the individual has hepatitis.
If GGT rises by itself, this could show that the individual’s alcohol use is causing a problem for their liver. There are cases where alcoholics have ordinary GGT levels, and where non-alcoholics have elevated levels, but it is most commonly a result of drinking. This will come back down to normal levels if the person doesn’t drink alcohol for around a month. If the GGT increase is coupled with rising ALP, it could indicate that a blockage is preventing bile being transported from the liver.
Additional options for liver function tests can also help your doctor determine the severity of the problem. For example, the clotting test is a general indicator of liver function because the organ plays a vital role in the process. If the individual’s blood takes significantly longer to clot than it should and they are abusing alcohol, this is a strong indicator that their drinking is adversely affecting their liver function.
Generally speaking, the liver damage caused by alcoholism is reversible if the individual stops drinking. If the levels of the various chemical markers are only slightly elevated, the doctor might just strongly advise stopping drinking and then conduct another test at a later date. If there is cause for concern, more tests will be ordered to determine the specific nature of the problem. Emergency situations include things like jaundice, where high levels of bilirubin in the blood cause yellowing of the skin, potentially indicating cirrhosis. This is the final stage in the progression of alcoholic liver disease and it is irreversible.
Anybody struggling with alcoholism should seriously consider having a liver function test to see the toll it is taking on their body. It is absolutely essential for heavier drinkers, and your doctor or your alcohol rehabilitation centre should suggest one to you. If you’re concerned about your own or your loved one’s drinking, we can help you find the treatment you need. We have a detailed knowledge of the different options for alcohol rehab located across the country and we’ll suggest the most suitable ones to you. Don’t go through this alone; we’re here to help you. Our advice is completely free, so get in touch with us today!