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The liver is a critical organ responsible for regulating a majority of the chemical levels within your blood, and also producing a substance called bile. All your blood leaving your stomach and intenstines will pass through the liver with the goal of filtering the blood to make it balanced for the rest of the body. A hepatic function panel (or a liver function test) is used to help understand the production of the liver, and diagnose if there’s any damage or disease. These tests are done by measuring levels of enzymes and proteins within your blood and noting if there are any substances causing disease. 

Today we’re going to dive into the main uses of hepatic function panels, how it works, and why they can be critical for determining how your liver is performing.   

What Is A Hepatic Function Panel?

A liver function test (or liver panel) is a blood test with the goal of measuring the different levels of enzymes, proteins, and additional substances within your blood. These measurements will provide your health care provider with an understanding of how healthy your liver is and it’s rate of production. 

You can expect a liver panel to test for:

  • Overall protein
  • Albumin
  • Bilirubin
  • ALP (alkaline phosphatase)
  • ALT (alanine transaminase)
  • AST (aspartate aminotransferase)
  • GGT (gamm-glutamyl tansferase)
  • LD (lactate dehydrogenase)
  • PT (prothrombin time)

If any of these substances are out of balance, it’s a good indication of a liver disease. 

Within the hepatic function panel, you can typically expect these five common tests:

  1. Liver Enzyme Test – looking for the amount of ALP, ALT, AST, and GGT which can help understand if there’s a liver injury.
  2. Total Protein Test – measuring the overall protein levels with low levels indicating abnormal function.
  3. Bilirubin Test – Looking to determine how well your liver functions for waste production.
  4. LDH Test – often found in my of your bodies tissues including the liver.
  5. PT Test – this is used to understand how long it takes for your blood to clot. 

All of these tests are used in conjunction to form the hepatic function panel. 

What Can A Hepatic Function Panel Tell You?

This panel can provide a ton of information related to the health of your liver. These panels are most often used to determine:

  • Hepatitis A, B, or C – liver inflammation 
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Cirrhosis – inflmmation of the liver due to alcohol abuse
  • Autoimmunce Inflammation
  • Liver cancer
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • PBC – primary biliary cholangitis
  • Problems with bile ducts or just the liver
  • If the liver is impaired, how much.
  • If your bile is impaired, how much.
  • If your medications are affecting the liver.

A physician will often get a liver function panel if you’re experiencing the following conditions:

  • Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Light colored stool
  • Dark colored urine
  • Extreme fatigue

How Do Hepatic Functions Work?

The process is straight forward. You may have your test take place within a hospital or it could be sent to a specialized facility for examination. In all, you can expect a professional healthcare technician to locate a prominent vein within one of your arms, and use a needle to draw blood from the site. During this process they may wrap your arm in a compression band to help induce the blood flow. Once complete they’ll clean off the site with an alcohol swab.

What Will Happen After?

Once the blood drawn your technician will then send it off for analysis and you’ll be free to leave the draw location. In some cases the hospital may have a lab which can do the analysis, or it might need to be sent to a special facility. Either way, the goal of your panel is to understand the different levels within the blood specifically related to those proteins and enzymes mentioned earlier. 

Are the protein levels too high? 

Are the enzyme levels too low? 

How do the levels of protein and enzymes compare to eachother?

What they want to understand is if the balance has been offset.

How Should You Interpret The Results Of Your Hepatic Function Panel?

Once you get your results back, you’ll find the report listing a variety of different values for the proteins and enzymes that were measured. This report will allow you to compare your levels agains the normal values. A license physician will provide you with a detailed understanding of what your report is describing about the health of your liver. 

For greater clarity, here are the normal ranges of the different substances (please know these ranges will vary depending on age, sex, and body size):

  • Total proteins: 3 to 8.0 g/dL
  • Albumin: 40 to 60 g/L
  • ALP: 30 to 120 IU/L
  • ALT: 0 to 45 IU/L
  • AST: 0 to 35 IU/L
  • Bilirubin: 2 to 17 micromoles/L
  • GGT: 0 to 30 IU/L
  • PT: 10.9 to 12.5 seconds

If should be pointed out that a hepatic function panel will not be the single source of truth for diagnosing a liver disease. It’s used as a signal or way of determining what might be the underlying cause of disease and is used to help guide additional testing for confirmation. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this provides you with a great overview of how a hepatic function panel will work. Like we mentioned earlier, these tests are used in conjunction with additional testing to determine if you’re experiencing liver disease. It’s a fairly painless process requiring a small amount of blood to run the five different tests which compose of the full panel. If you’re interested in learning more, or having a liver panel completed, please contact Lux Diagnostics.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is fasting required for a hepatic function panel?

It’s desirable to have the test performed on an empty stomach. It’s recommended you do not eat 10-12 hours before your exam. 

What are the 4 warning signs of a damaged liver?

  1. Swelling of your ankles and legs.
  2. Swelling of your abdomen.
  3. Yellowing of your skin and eyes
  4. High temperature 

What Medications Can Affect A Liver Panel?

  • Antibiotics
  • Anit-sezure drugs
  • Diabetes drugs
  • Tuberculosis drugs

What Drug Most Commonly Cause Liver Failure?

Acetaminophen is the most common drug known to induce liver injury. When dosed properly, the drug is very safe, however sometimes it can be used inappropriately and cause severe damage to your liver.

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