Your liver; may not be the most glamorous organ in the body, but it’s certainly one of the most important ones! It’s an essential organ of the human body. The liver helps in detoxifying, creating proteins and hormones, and producing biochemicals that you need for digestion.
Since the 1900’s, liver disease and complications have become more common because of changes in lifestyles (such as drinking alcohol) and because of other reasons like genetics, obesity, or becoming ill with a virus (CDC, 2019). According to the National Library for Medicine, around two million people die from chronic liver diseases, and one million of those deaths are due to complications of a condition called liver cirrhosis (liver cirrhosis is the term for long-term damage of the liver).
What is a Liver function blood test?
If you’ve been told you need a liver function blood test, you may also have heard it called a liver function test, or a hepatic panel. The word hepatic refers to the liver. The name is the overall term for a group of blood tests that give providers information about how the liver is functioning. They are done for a patient to check their levels of things like bilirubin, enzymes, and proteins. We will explain each of these below.
Why is a Liver function blood test recommended?
There are many reasons why you would need a liver function test done, such as:
- If you’ve been diagnosed with Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, and your doctor needs to monitor your condition.
- If you have cirrhosis (long term damage to the liver where scar tissue begins to replace healthy tissue), and need to be monitored.
- If you are experiencing high triglycerides (high level of fat in the blood), have diabetes, high blood pressure, or anemia
- If you have damage caused from alcoholism
- To check for gallbladder disease.
- You may also be checked if you’ve started a new medication that could affect your liver.
What is included in a standard liver panel?
A standard liver panel will usually include testing the following things:
- Total Protein: measures the amount of protein that is in the blood
- Albumin: A protein made in the liver, that helps keep your blood from seeping out of blood vessels, and helps transport medications through the blood.
- Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT): an enzyme made in the liver, that turns proteins into energy.
- Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST): an enzyme that breaks down amino acids.
- Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP): an enzyme made in the intestines, kidneys, bones and liver, but the largest amount is made in the liver. It breaks down proteins.
- Bilirubin: this is made when red blood cells break down normally.
These tests are specifically for patients who are experiencing symptoms (shown below), which fit with the possibility of a liver disorder. It is not recommended for patients to have these tests done without checking with your doctor.
What are the common symptoms of a liver disorder?
Staying aware is one of the key things you can do to prevent and treat liver problems. Knowing the symptoms is very important, although some liver disorders can be unnoticed at the beginning. It may take months or even years for them to develop. Here are some common symptoms:
- Weakness, fatigue, and weight loss
- Fluid collection in the abdomen, known as ascites
- Jaundice (yellow skin caused by buildup of bilirubin)
- Discolored urine or stool: dark urine, or light stools.
- Extreme vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Gilbert’s Syndrome (the liver doesn’t process bilirubin properly)
- Cirrhosis of the liver
What are the common liver function blood tests?
Liver function blood tests generally measure the enzymes and proteins in your blood, depending on what the condition of the liver is. Before going in for these tests, it helps to know what they are, and what they’re used for:
1. Alanine transaminase tests are also known as ALT tests. They are used to metabolize (process) proteins in your body. If there is an increased level of ALT in the blood, it could be a sign of liver damage.
- Range: ALT above 25 IU/L in females and ALT above 33IU/L in males
2. Aspartate Aminotransferase tests are also known as the AST Test. The AST shows the amount of an enzyme, known as Aspartate aminotransferase, found in your heart, liver, and muscles. With a damaged liver, AST can increase and can be released in the bloodstream.
- Range: AST up to 40 IU/L in adults and children is a normal range.
3. Alkaline phosphatase is an enzyme found in bile ducts, bones, and the liver. Higher levels of ASP may show inflammation of the liver, blockage of bile ducts, and bone disease.
- Range: The normal range is typically up to 120 U/L. However, there are certain exceptions: women, and children may have more ALP because they are in a stage of physical development.
4. Albumin Test: The most important protein made by the liver is albumin. Albumin nourishes our tissues and transports hormones. A low level of albumin in the blood shows improper function of the liver.
- Range: It ranges normally from 3.5 to 5.0 g/dL. Low albumin can be a result of liver disorders or any inflammation.
5. Bilirubin test is a waste product from the breakdown of the RBC’s and passes through the liver before exiting the body through our stool. A damaged liver cannot produce bilirubin and leads to a higher level in the blood.
Range: 0.1 to 1.2 mg/dL is normal for men and women, although raised bilirubin level can be a consequence of other diseases that don’t involve the liver.
Apart from the above five tests commonly used in a liver panel test, few other tests can also be recommended by doctors for further diagnosis. Let’s look at the others:
- Gamma-glutamyl Transferase Test: GGT is an enzyme found mostly in the blood and with the damage of the liver, it can break into the bloodstream. A high level of GGT can show liver damage. An ALT test is usually followed by a GGT test.
- Lactate dehydrogenase test (LD test/LDH test): Done to check the severity of any chronic tissue damage.
How are liver function blood tests done?
The lab technician or clinical provider will draw blood from you with a needle. You will be able to resume normal activity afterwards, and the process should take 10-15 minutes. Then, it will be sent to a lab and you will wait for a report. If you are taking medications, be sure to check with your doctor to see if you need to stop certain medicines that can interfere with the blood test.
How much does a Liver function blood test panel cost?
These tests are pretty costly. On average, it might cost you around $200- $450. The prices depend upon the type of clinic you visit and whether your insurance will cover it. If you have insurance, you could pay a copay amount of $100. If you’re concerned about the cost of a liver panel test 2022, check out ZeaMed today. Doctors can bill for Liver function blood tests using the CPT code 80076.
ZeaMed offers you a wide range of healthcare facilities that have quality care available. Their excellent teams of doctors and technicians are well-trained and ready to take the utmost care of you! You can check out ZeaMed for a variety of discounts that can save you money, even if you’re already insured.