The liver is a vital organ with several functions. Some of its essential functions are forming proteins for bodily functions such as repairing of cells, bile production for the digestion of fats, and removal of waste products from our blood.
Sometimes, when health issues are suspected with the liver, a liver function test may be recommended to check on one’s liver health. This test is essentially a blood test, where your blood sample is examined for any abnormal substance levels in your liver, signaling possible liver disease. These substances include: proteins such as albumin, enzymes such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT) & aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and a waste product called bilirubin.
When receiving the test results, you might feel fearful or confused trying to interpret it, especially if you have just received an abnormal liver function test result. But rest assured, not all abnormal test results indicate a serious issue in your liver. Some results are isolated cases, while others can easily be treated when discovered and addressed early.
Typically, such a reading is given because your liver is inflamed. To aid you in understanding the abnormal reading, here are 5 common causes that may explain your abnormal liver function test outcome.
One of the most common causes would be heavy alcohol consumption. As the liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol, excessive alcohol intake causes the liver to struggle and become overworked, eventually causing damage to it. Moreover, toxins are produced in the process of breaking down alcohol molecules, and they add to the damage in the liver.
Also, it is a myth that certain types of alcohol would cause more harm to your liver. It is not the type of alcohol you consume but the amount of alcohol consumed that leads to liver damage.
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). During a virus infection, the damaged liver leaks the liver enzymes into the bloodstream. During a more severe infection, a larger number of liver enzymes would be detected in your blood, in some cases raised bilirubin level causes jaundice to your body.
If suspected to have been infected, you are advised to follow up with a hepatitis test immediately. Hepatitis B infections can be acute or chronic and the treatments differ accordingly. Treatment for acute hepatitis B focuses on managing the symptoms, whereas close monitoring and treatment are needed for chronic hepatitis B.
Fatty liver (non-alcoholic)
The presence of fatty buildup in the liver is another cause for an abnormal liver function test. But, did you know that fatty liver can form even without excessive alcohol consumption? This is more common among overweight people.
When excess calorie from our food consumption accumulates in the body as fat, it leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver, and therefore, an abnormal liver function test in some patients. When not treated, fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Isolated raised bilirubin (from Gilbert syndrome)
When the liver breaks down old red blood cells, a yellow by-product called bilirubin is secreted. However, if your liver cannot properly process bilirubin and remove it from the body, they accumulate and result in an increase in bilirubin levels. This condition is coined as Gilbert syndrome, a genetic disorder.
This mild disorder can be observed as a yellowing of the whites of the eyes or more commonly, it does not present any symptoms and just incidentally detected to have raised bilirubin from your medical check, with all other liver enzymes are normal. The good news is that Gilbert syndrome is a benign condition and it will not cause harm to your body.
Some pregnant women are also prone to having abnormal liver function test results from pregnancy related fatty liver or other pregnancy complications. These issues need to be monitored closely, and most of the time, they will resolve after delivery of the baby.
Knowing how to read your liver function test is essential in maintaining your liver’s health. While the above presents 5 common explanations for an abnormal liver function test result, it is always still advisable to speak to a professional to diagnose and offer personalised treatment solutions for yourself.