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Liver Testing

Liver Function Tests: Why and How

Your liver performs a number of important functions in the body that are essential to your health and well-being. It helps the body process foods, aids in removing toxins from your blood, manufactures blood clotting factors, makes vital proteins and stores energy for when your body needs it most, among other functions. For these reasons, keeping your liver healthy is essential to keeping yourself healthy. A liver function test can help, providing early warning of any potential problems with liver health and function.

Why is liver function testing done?

Liver function tests are done for a variety of reasons. They may be done as part of a regular check-up, simply to ensure that all is well with liver functions. Doctors often recommend an annual liver test for people who have a family history of liver disease, placing them at increased risk, or who have symptoms that may indicate liver trouble, which may include:

  • FatiguePain in abdomen may indicate liver disease
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine and/or light-colored or yellowish stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling around the eyes, in the abdominal area and/or of the legs
Featured Tests and Packages
Expanded Liver Function Package
$69

Measures levels of several enzymes and proteins to assess liver function including GGT (Gamma Glutamyl Transferase) and LD (Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase).

Hepatitis B Immunity Package
$125

Detects antigens and antibodies to hepatitis B to screen for hepatitis B infection or confirm immunity

Liver Function Panel
$22

Measures levels of several enzymes and proteins to assess liver function

Lab Tests (A-Z)
Acute Hepatitis Package
$165

Detects antigens and antibodies to hepatitis B to screen for infection with the hepatitis A, B, or C virus. AVAILABLE AT LABCORP ONLY.

Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT/SGPT)
$11

Measures the level of alanine aminotransferase (ALT), an enzyme found in the liver and kidneys

Ammonia
$59

Measures the level of ammonia, a waste product

Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP)
$19

Measures levels of 8 individual components to assess overall health

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel 14 (CMP 14)
$29

Measures levels of 14 individual components to assess overall health

Gamma Glutamyl Transferase ( GGT)
$19

This test is used to measure the level of the enzyme, GGT in the body.

Hepatitis A Antibody, Total
$43

Only for Hepatitis A immunization status

Hepatitis A Infection and Immunity Package
$85

Detects total hepatitis A antibodies and hepatitis A IgM antibodies to screen for hepatitis A infection or confirm immunity

Hepatitis B Immunity Package
$125

Detects antigens and antibodies to hepatitis B to screen for hepatitis B infection or confirm immunity

Hepatitis B Surface Antibodies
$39

Surface antibodies are produced in response to the presence of surface antigens. A reactive result is consistent with immunity to the hepatitis B virus, either by recovery from infection or by vaccination.1

Hepatitis B Surface Antigen
$42

Detects antigens to hepatitis B to screen for active infection

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) Infection
$47

Measures the level of hepatitis C antibodies to screen for infection with hepatitis C virus

Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase (LD)
$39

This test is used to measure the level of Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase (LD) in the blood.

Liver Function Panel
$22

Measures levels of several enzymes and proteins to assess liver function

Regular liver screening tests may also be recommended for individuals who are taking medications that could cause liver damage over time, or who have a history of alcohol or drug abuse that might increase risk of liver damage or disease. Liver function tests may also be used to help track health status in people who have already been diagnosed with liver disease, with the purpose of monitoring the effects of treatment and/or keeping watch for further deterioration in liver function. Lastly, liver function tests may be done in women who are pregnant or may become pregnant to screen for infectious liver disease that could be transmitted to an unborn child.

What can cause liver problems?Location and function of liver in the body

Among the most common causes of liver disease are viral infections. They may be spread via blood or semen, through contaminated food or water, or close contact with an infected person. Viral infections typically cause inflammation (swelling) in the liver that reduces its ability to function normally. The most common viruses to infect the liver are:

  • Hepatitis A – This highly contagious form of hepatitis is transmitted through food or water, as well as by infected individuals.
  • Hepatitis B – A contagious liver infection transmitted via blood or body fluids.
  • Hepatitis C – Also a form of hepatitis that is spread through contact with infected blood or body fluids.

Autoimmune disease are another potential cause of liver damage. These are conditions in which the body's own immune system attacks the liver, degrading its ability to function. These include:

  • Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) – This disease slowly destroys bile ducts in the liver, leading to cirrhosis (scarring) of liver tissue.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis – Causes inflammation as the immune system attacks liver cells, which can result in liver damage and failure over time.
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis – Creates inflammation in the bile ducts that leads to liver damage, and eventually, to liver failure.

Other common causes of liver disease include chronic, heavy consumption of alcohol, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, in which excessive amounts of fat accumulate in the liver.

How do liver function tests work to medically assess liver health?

Liver function tests are used to detect and/or measure amounts of specific proteins and enzymes in the blood. Depending upon the exact test, higher or lower than normal levels of these substances can indicate the presence of liver disease or damage. Among the most common tests included in liver function panel are:

  • Alanine transaminase (ALT) test – ALT is an enzyme, primarily found in the liver, that is used to metabolize protein. When the liver is damaged or is functioning poorly, it is released from the liver into the blood. For that reason, tests that show high levels of this enzyme in the blood can indicate that liver damage or disease is present.
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) test – ALP is also an enzyme, and it is found in the liver, bile ducts or bones. High levels found in the blood via testing can be a sign of bile duct blockage, liver damage or bone disease.
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) test – This enzyme can be found in several areas of the body, including the liver, muscles and heart. Liver damage can release AST into the blood, so tests that measure its levels in the bloodstream are often part of liver function panels.
  • Albumin test – Albumin is an essential protein, made by the liver, that helps maintain blood vessels and tissues, as well as transporting hormones, nutrients and other vital substances throughout the body. Low levels of albumin in the blood can indicate poor liver function.
  • Bilirubin test – Bilirubin levels in the blood can provide information about liver function. A waste product, bilirubin is produced as reach the end of their lifespan and break down. This waste product passes through the liver, where it is processed to be eliminated from the body in the stool. Abnormally high levels of bilirubin in the blood is a sign that the liver is no longer able to cleanse this waste product from the body efficiently, indicating poor liver function.

How does testing work?

The liver function tests listed above are all blood tests. To test your blood, a sample must be taken via a blood draw, then processed by a medical testing laboratory. You can get tested by requesting a liver function test from your healthcare provider, who will then arrange a blood draw and ship your blood sample to an appropriate lab to be analyzed. Another option is to order your liver function tests directly from a lab testing service, like Health Testing Centers. This is typically easier and less expensive than ordering tests through your doctor, since it eliminates the need, and the cost, for office visits to order tests and to collect your results.