Finding the cause and extent of liver damage is important in guiding treatment. Your doctor is likely to start with a health history and thorough physical examination.
Your doctor may then recommend:
- Blood tests. A group of blood tests called liver function tests can be used to diagnose liver disease. Other blood tests can be done to look for specific liver problems or genetic conditions.
- Imaging tests. An ultrasound, CT scan and MRI can show liver damage.
- Checking a tissue sample. Removing a tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver may help diagnose liver disease and look for signs of liver damage. A liver biopsy is most often done using a long needle inserted through the skin to extract a tissue sample that's sent to a lab for testing.
Treatment for liver disease depends on your diagnosis. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as stopping alcohol use or losing weight, typically as part of a medical program that includes careful monitoring of liver function. Other liver problems may be treated with medications or may require surgery.
Treatment for liver disease that causes or has led to liver failure may ultimately require a liver transplant.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Changing certain lifestyle habits can often help improve your liver health. If you've been diagnosed with liver disease, your doctor may recommend that you:
- Drink alcohol sparingly, if at all.
- Avoid red meat, trans fats, processed carbohydrates and foods with high-fructose corn syrup.
- Exercise 30 to 60 minutes around three to four times a week at a moderate intensity.
- Cut calories by 500 to 1,000 calories daily, if you're overweight.
No alternative medicine therapies have been proved to treat liver disease. Some studies have indicated possible benefits, but further research is needed.
On the other hand, some dietary and herbal supplements can harm your liver. More than a thousand medications and herbal products have been associated with liver damage, including:
- Vitamin A
- Pennyroyal oil
To protect your liver, it's important to talk to your doctor about the potential risks before you take any complementary or alternative medicines.
Preparing for your appointment
You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the liver (hepatologist).
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions, such as not eating solid food on the day before your appointment.
- Write down your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason why you scheduled the appointment.
- Make a list of all your medications, vitamins and supplements.
- Write down your key medical information, including other conditions.
- Write down key personal information, including any recent changes or stressors in your life.
- Ask a relative or friend to accompany you, to help you remember what the doctor says.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do I need? Do these tests require any special preparation?
- Are my liver problems likely temporary or long lasting?
- What treatments are available?
- Should I stop taking certain medications or supplements?
- Do I need to stop drinking alcohol?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
- Are my children at risk for liver disease?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may leave time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked:
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms, and how severe are they? Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- Does anything seem to improve your symptoms, or make them worse?
- Have you ever had your skin or eyes turn yellow?
- What medications and supplements do you take?
- How many days of the week do you drink alcohol?
- Do you have any tattoos?
- Does your job involve exposure to chemicals, blood or body fluids?
- Have you ever had a blood transfusion?
- Have you been told that you have had liver problems before?
- Has anyone in your family ever been diagnosed with liver disease?