Liver is the largest organ in the human body and weighs around 3.5 pounds. It carries out over five hundred functions like detoxification, secretion of digestive enzymes and protein synthesis.
Liver functions very efficiently when it is healthy but being a large organ can experience a range of problems. Maintaining proper liver health is very important. Liver diseases can be inherited or caused by a number of factors like infections and alcohol abuse. They lead to liver cirrhosis over time which can result in liver failure.
Liver health can be maintained by following the directions listed below:
- Limiting alcohol consumption- alcohol affects liver health in an adverse way. Uncontrolled drinking causes liver cirrhosis. Drinking should be done in moderation to avoid liver damage and to maintain liver health.
- Healthy diet- the diet should be healthy and balanced. It should have less fats and more fibre content for liver health. High level of fats and cholesterol causes fatty liver so these should be avoided.
- Maintaining healthy body weight- obesity leads to fatty liver disease. Keeping weight under check is important for liver health.
- Vaccinations- getting vaccinated against diseases like hepatitis A and B prevents these viral infections.
- Avoiding the use of over the counter medicines. And traditional remedies which contain heavy metal and toxins.
- Proper treatment of systemic diseases like diabetes and hypertension is important for to avoid liver problems and maintain liver health.
- Avoiding smoking.
- Regular exercise and physical activity.
Along with these precautionary measures, liver screening tests should also be undertaken on a regular basis to detect the presence of any diseases. A complete liver health check-up done by a doctor helps in keeping the liver healthy and to avoid any health issues. If the liver is not functioning properly , the following symptoms are experienced:
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowish discolouration of skin and eyes
- Dark colour of the urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Easy bruising
- Blood in stools
Liver screening tests and complete liver check-up helps in determining the following conditions:
- Liver infections
- Severity and stage of the liver disease
- Side -effects of medications
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Effect of systemic diseases on the liver
Liver check-up is also recommended for people who do not have any symptoms or family history of liver disease. A liver screening tests usually consists of blood tests which measure the enzymes and check liver health .These tests are known as liver function tests. Additional diagnostic procedures can also be used if required. Some of the enzymes and proteins measured in liver function tests are:
- Aspartate transaminase[AST] – this enzyme helps in the metabolism of aminoacids. The normal value of AST is usually low in the blood but an increase is seen the level of AST in the condition of liver disease or damage.
- Alanine transaminase[ALT] – this enzyme is found in the liver and helps to convert proteins into energy. In case of liver disease, the level of ALT increases and it can be detected in the blood.
- Alkaline phosphatase[ALP] – this enzyme helps in protein metabolism and is found in blood and bones. The increase in the level of alkaline phosphatase indicates liver damage or disease.
- Albumin and total protein – albumin is synthesized in the liver and helps in fighting infections. Lower than normal levels of albumin and total protein indicates impaired liver function due to liver damage or disease.
- Bilirubin – it is the substance produced during the break-down of red blood cells. It is excreted in the stool by passing through the liver. In liver disease, bilirubin is not excreted and can be seen in the form of jaundice.
- Gamma- glutamyltransferase –[GGT] – its high level indicates liver damage.
- L-lactate dehydrogenase – its elevated level may indicate liver damage.
- Prothrombin time[PT] – it is the time taken by the blood to clot. Increase in PT indicates impaired liver function.
- Platelet count- low platelet count known as thrombocytopenia can be seen in advanced liver disease.
- Glucose – when the glucose level in the blood falls, the glucose is released from the liver to maintain blood sugar level. This is an important function of the liver and is called gluconeogenesis. In advanced liver impairment, glucose is not released by the liver leading to low blood sugar in absence of adequate oral intake.
For these tests, the blood sample is taken from the vein in the arm. The blood is withdrawn and the blood sample is sent to the laboratory for testing. The result tells the degree of liver damage and the type of the liver disease. This helps the doctor to formulate a liver treatment plan.
Further investigations like CT scan, ultrasonography or liver biopsy can be recommended to confirm the diagnosis and to evaluate the condition and the extent of liver damage. All these are used to plan the course of the liver treatment and the preventive measures to be employed to maintain liver health.