One of the dangers of abusing alcohol is that it can damage the liver. The first stage of alcoholic liver disease (fatty liver) can begin after just one drinking binge. The first time individuals usually discover that they have developed liver problems though is following a liver function test. Discovering that this organ is being damaged can be a real wakeup call, and if it has already reached the stage of cirrhosis then it is vital that drinking is stopped right away. This may require getting some help or preferably entering rehab.
What is the Liver Function Test?
The liver function tests involve taking a blood sample and analysing this for certain chemicals in the bloodstream. This information is valuable because it not only indicates problems with the liver but also the possible cause as well. Many biomarkers are shown in the results of this test but the one that is typically indicative of liver damage due to alcohol abuse is alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). A high level of ALT would indicate that the liver is inflamed whereas a high level of AST would indicate that there is damage to the liver. Another sign of alcohol abuse is elevated gamma glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT), which also indicates damage to the liver due to alcohol but can usually be improved upon abstaining from alcohol for a few weeks.
What Happens if the Liver Function Test Indicates Problems?
If the results from a liver function test show elevated AST and elevated ALT, it usually entails being referred to a liver specialist. An ultrasound of the liver will help assess the damage and a liver biopsy may be necessary. The type of treatment offered will depend on the result of these tests. The focus on those who have already developed cirrhosis (the organ is scarred to a level where it may no longer be possible for it to recover) will be on preventing further damage to the liver. As long alcohol consumption is stopped and the proper treatment is received, it may still be possible to live a relatively normal life for many years. If the damage is not severe, a full recovery may also be made as long as alcohol consumption ceases immediately.
How serious is Abnormal Liver Function Results?
Those with an abnormal liver function test will need to take it very seriously. The liver is a vital organ and is responsible for about 500 crucial functions, including cleaning the blood, creating proteins, storing vitamins, storing glycogen, and breaking down drugs. It is not possible to survive without this functioning organ. The liver is considered very hardy and it is able to put up with a lot of abuse; it is possible to damage up to half of it and still be able to recover. By the time liver cirrhosis is reached though, this organ has been pushed to its limits.
Ignoring abnormal liver function results could mean not having long to live. Help should be sought in order to stop drinking, and one needs to follow the advice of the liver consultant. There will be plenty of support available to help make the necessary changes in life and, hopefully, looking back on this health scare would be the best thing to ever happen if it aids sobriety.