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What is a Liver Function Test?

By Nat Robinson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The liver is essential to vitality. It assists in removing toxins from the body and stores nutrients from food to be used for energy. A liver function test is a test that evaluates the overall wellness of this very important organ. The test can detect damage, disease, inflammation and show how well different treatment regimens may be working. A patient with liver disease or significant liver damage may undergo a function test as part of a routine medical physical examination.

In most cases, a liver function test is composed of several different tests to analyze how well the liver is producing proteins and enzymes. Most tests will measure the amount of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is formed when the liver breaks down red blood cells and is passed in stool. A high level of bilirubin may indicate a disease or damage in the liver. The liver panel of tests may also include a total protein evaluation to examine how well the liver is making proteins to fight infections and perform other important functions.

Physicians generally perform a complete liver function test under certain conditions. For instance, if a person has jaundice or yellowing of the eyes or skin, he or she may be instructed to have the test. Jaundice is commonly a symptom of liver disease. Other concerning symptoms may include abdominal swelling, upper right abdominal pain and unusually dark urine. Individuals with a disease such as cirrhosis or hepatitis may additionally have the test to monitor the diseases.

To prepare for a liver function test fasting may be requested. It may be necessary to forgo eating, as the consumption of certain foods may interfere with the test results. Physicians will need to know about medicines the patient regularly takes as well. Giving this information is imperative, as certain medications may further interfere with the results of the test.

A blood sample will need to be obtained for the test. Patients may report to a physician's office or directly to a hospital to submit the sample. The only discomfort typically experienced is the needle prick. Although this discomfort is generally very minimal. Following the test, most people are free to leave and continue with their day as usual.

Liver function test results will be available after the testing laboratory does a full analysis of the blood sample. Abnormal results may indicate inflammation in the liver, damage or disease presence. Individuals who have been on medications for a long time due to a liver disease may have higher or lower than average results. Due to their situation, however, these results may still be considered normal for them. If treatment is needed following a test of this kind, doctors will usually inform the patient on what he or she thinks the next best step should be.

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