Liver Damage Symptoms and Liver Function Tests

The Liver


The liver is a very tolerant organ and there is little evidence to suggest that it has an ageing problem such that, without disease, it can function properly into old age. However because most liver disease does not show symptoms and, when it does, the symptoms are often vague, many people with varying degrees of liver damage remain unaware of their liver problems.


There are over one hundred types of liver disease and collectively they affect some two million people in the UK. (Of course, this figure may be much higher as many cases of disease remain undiagnosed.) The liver, being so resourceful, is often able to work well enough even when it may be damaged. This means that you may not necessarily display obvious symptoms, or signs of liver disease or illness.


What the liver does


The liver is situated on the right hand side of your body just below the rib cage. It is the largest gland, and the largest solid organ in the body, weighing some 1.8 kgs in men and 1.3 kgs in women. It holds approximately 13% (about one pint or 0.57 litres) of your total blood supply.


The liver is dark reddish-brown in colour and is divided into two main lobes. About 60% of the liver is made up of liver cells called hepatocytes which absorb nutrients and detoxify and remove harmful substances from the blood. The liver is a hard working organ and carries out 1000s of functions per day, including:


Cleansing the blood

Helping regulate blood sugar

Metabolising fats

Synthesizing Vitamin A

Breaking down toxic substances.

Storing iron for the body

The Liver and Alcohol

Most people think that alcohol is fairly harmless and something to be enjoyed. Other than a few ill effects the next day, and maybe putting on a bit of weight, alcohol may not seem to have any long lasting effects, but it can.

Alcohol is the major cause of death in the UK and recent research suggests that drinking even slightly more than the recommended amount can cause significant liver damage.


Types of Liver Disease


Drinking too much alcohol can lead to three types of liver conditions – fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Any, or all, of these conditions can occur at the same time in the same person.


A build-up of fat occurs within liver cells in most people who regularly drink heavily. In itself, fatty liver is not usually serious and does not cause symptoms. Fatty liver will usually reverse if you stop drinking heavily.


Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The inflammation can range from mild to severe.


Mild hepatitis may not cause any symptoms. The only indication of inflammation may be an abnormal level of liver enzymes in the blood which can be detected by a blood test.


A more severe hepatitis tends to cause symptoms such as feeling sick, jaundice (yellowing of the skin caused by a high level of bilirubin – a chemical normally metabolised in the liver), generally feeling unwell, and sometimes pain over the liver.


A very severe bout of alcoholic hepatitis can quickly lead to liver failure.


Cirrhosis is a condition where normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis). The scarring tends to be a gradual process. The scar tissue affects the normal structure and re-growth of liver cells.

Liver cells become damaged and die as scar tissue gradually develops. So, the liver gradually loses its ability to function well. The scar tissue can also affect the blood flow through the liver which can cause ‘back pressure’ in the blood vessels which bring blood to the liver.


Liver Function Tests


A liver function test tests for damage to liver cells by testing for two enzymes, ALT and AST. Normally these enzymes are largely present inside liver cells. However, damage to the liver can cause more ALT and AST to leak into the blood. Therefore, raised levels of these enzymes can be an important indicator of liver damage.


A liver function test is also suitable for anyone that is concerned about their alcohol consumption, overweight, or on long term medication.


The test is an easy to use, finger prick blood test which is confidential too as it can be taken in the comfort of your home.


By using a mail order postal service there is no need to visit a specialist or laboratory.


Reputable suppliers of liver function tests offer clinically validated liver enzyme tests with laboratory test results.


For further information about liver damage and liver function tests please see []


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