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How do you check your liver health?


The liver is a vital organ that performs many critical functions in the body. It processes nutrients, filters blood, fights infections, breaks down drugs and toxins, and more. Taking care of your liver is essential for maintaining overall health. There are several simple ways you can check on the health of your liver. Getting regular blood tests, recognizing liver disease symptoms, avoiding risk factors, and making lifestyle changes can all help keep your liver in good working order.

What is the liver and what does it do?

The liver is the second largest organ in the body after the skin. It is located on the right side of the abdomen behind the ribs. Some key functions of the liver include:

  • Bile production – Bile is a fluid made by the liver that helps digest fats. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and released into the small intestine.
  • Filtering blood – The liver filters and removes toxins from the blood, including bilirubin, ammonia, and drugs.
  • Metabolism – The liver processes and regulates the storage of nutrients from food. It manages carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism.
  • Vitamin & mineral storage – The liver stores important vitamins and minerals like iron, copper, and vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12.
  • Blood clotting – The liver makes clotting factors that help stop bleeding.
  • Immune function – It makes proteins that support immune system response and function.
  • Waste removal – The liver breaks down and prepares waste for excretion.

When the liver is damaged or diseased, these functions can be impaired.

What are the symptoms of liver problems?

Many liver conditions do not cause symptoms in the early stages. As liver disease progresses, signs can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Poor appetite or weight loss
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice (yellowing skin and eyes)
  • Bruising easily
  • Bleeding excessively
  • Buildup of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Confusion and impaired brain function
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stool

However, many of these signs can also be caused by conditions not related to the liver. See your doctor if you have any persistent symptoms for proper diagnosis.

Blood tests to check liver function

Blood tests are one of the most common and effective ways to check on the health of your liver.

What is a liver panel?

A liver panel, also called a hepatic panel, is a group of blood tests that measure different enzymes and proteins made by the liver. Doctors use liver panels to screen for liver problems and monitor known conditions.

Common liver blood tests

Some standard liver function tests on a panel include:

  • Albumin – Checks levels of the main protein made by the liver.
  • Bilirubin – Measures levels of a waste product from the breakdown of old red blood cells.
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) – Elevated levels indicate blocked bile ducts or liver damage.
  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) – An enzyme mainly found in the liver. High levels signal liver cell injury.
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) – An enzyme produced by the liver, heart, and other tissues. High levels indicate liver damage.

Additional tests may check platelet count, cholesterol, and proteins associated with viral hepatitis. Your doctor will determine which tests are appropriate based on your health history and symptoms.

When should you get a liver test?

Some reasons your doctor may order liver blood tests include:

  • If you have symptoms of liver disease
  • To screen for liver problems when doing a general health checkup
  • If you have risk factors for liver disease, like heavy alcohol use
  • To monitor an existing liver condition
  • To check for side effects if taking a medication that can damage the liver

Routine liver tests may be recommended annually, every 6 months, or more frequently depending on your health status.

How to keep your liver healthy

Making lifestyle changes and avoiding risk factors can help prevent liver problems and maintain healthy liver function.

Diet and exercise

  • Eat a balanced diet low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt.
  • Avoid overeating and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or avoid alcohol completely if you have liver disease.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Exercise regularly to improve liver enzyme levels.

Avoid toxins

  • Don’t smoke cigarettes or use illegal drugs that can damage the liver.
  • Avoid exposure to environmental toxins.
  • Use medications and supplements wisely under a doctor’s supervision.

Manage conditions

  • Control diabetes and high blood pressure to avoid liver strain.
  • Take steps to reduce your risk of viral hepatitis infections.
  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.

Making lifestyle adjustments and having your liver checked regularly can catch problems early and reduce your risk of developing serious liver disease. See your doctor if you have any ongoing hepatic symptoms for proper diagnosis and treatment. Maintaining good liver health takes commitment but pays off over the long run.

Conclusion

The liver performs vital roles in nutrient processing, blood filtration, hormone regulation, and more. There are a number of blood tests that provide insight into liver function and overall health. Elevated liver enzymes or abnormal levels of proteins like albumin and bilirubin on a liver panel can signal possible liver injury or disease. Lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, alcohol use, and managing other health conditions can impact liver health as well. Getting regular blood work with your doctor and making lifestyle adjustments when needed are key to keeping your liver in good working order. Monitoring your liver function and taking preventative measures allows for steps to be taken early to treat and manage any developing issues. Paying attention to your liver health protects the many important jobs this organ does to support overall wellbeing.