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Liver function tests, also referred to as liver panels, are a type of blood test that measure levels of certain enzymes and proteins made by the liver--including bilirubin, albumin, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). Doctors order these tests for people with symptoms of liver problems, as part of routine blood work, to monitor the safety of certain medications or to track the progression of certain illnesses.
Fatty liver, which is referred to by doctors as steatohepatitis, is a disease that can cause abnormal liver function test results. According to the American Liver Foundation, eating more calories than the body needs is the cause main of fatty liver; other causes include losing weight too quickly and excessive alcohol use. The buildup of fat reduces the liver's ability to function normally and can lead to serious complications, such as cirrhosis.
People with hemochromatosis may exhibit abnormal liver function test results. Hemochromatosis is a recessive genetic disorder that causes people to absorb too much iron from the foods they eat; the extra iron is stored in the liver. Abnormal liver function tests may be an early indication of this disorder, which can also cause symptoms including fatigue, skin problems and infertility.
Liver failure is, quite logically, a cause of abnormal liver function test results. Liver failure can develop within a few days and is a life-threatening medical emergency. People with acute liver failure may experience sudden symptoms that include jaundice, abdominal pain, confusion, sleepiness, nausea and vomiting.
Medications and Supplements
People who overuse or abuse certain medications or supplements may have abnormal liver function tests. Aspirin can cause abnormal liver function tests when used in heavy amounts or for a long period of time. According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamins A, D, E and K can cause elevated liver enzymes when regularly consumed in amounts higher than the recommended daily allowance; herbs such as kava, comfrey, chaparral and pennyroyal may also cause abnormal liver function tests.
People who are exposed to certain types of toxins may exhibit abnormal liver function test results. Alcohol acts as a toxin to the liver when consumed regularly or in excessive amounts. Other toxins that can cause abnormal liver function tests include cleaning sprays, pesticides and the poisonous Amanita phalloides mushroom.
People who are or have been infected with hepatitis A, B or C may develop abnormal liver function test results. Hepatitis A is a short-term illness that people get from eating or drinking contaminated food or water, and the virus can cause liver enzymes to be extremely elevated. According to the Mayo Clinic, hepatitis B and C viruses may cause liver function test results to be extremely high within six months of infection, followed by mild elevations that may continue throughout life.