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Tests & Screening

Liver disease tests explained

There are over 100 types of liver disease, which affect around two million people in the UK. The actual figure may be much higher, as many cases of liver disease go undiagnosed.

If your GP suspects you have a liver problem, they may suggest a routine blood test to:

  • Assess how well your kidneys and liver are working
  • Check haemoglobin levels (to see how much oxygen is being transported around the body by your red blood cells)
  • Check your white cell count (to check how well your immune system is working).

This helps to give your doctor a better idea of your general physical health.

If liver disease is suspected, more specific blood samples may be needed to test for viruses and antibodies common to disorders of the liver. Tests may also be requested to check for genetic or hereditary conditions. You might need to have imaging tests (such as ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI scan) or an endoscopic procedure (where a tiny camera is used to investigate what’s going on inside the body) to enable doctors to get the full picture.

All of these tests are explained below, and in the full publication which you can download here and from the bottom of this page.

Please note that this page, and the corresponding publication, do not cover testing for viral hepatitis. For more information on testing for hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, see our Testing for viral hepatitis fact sheet.

Tests for different types of liver disease

The chart below shows the tests most commonly used in diagnosing the following liver conditions:

Disease

Test or procedure

Alcohol related liver disease

History/liver function tests (blood sample)

Autoimmune hepatitis

Autoantibodies such as anti-nuclear antibody and anti-smooth muscle antibody (blood sample)

Haemochromatosis

HFE Gene analysis for C282Y or H63D mutation (blood sample)

Hepatitis A

Antibody test (blood sample)

Hepatitis B

Antibody, antigen tests/hepatitis B DNA (blood sample)

Hepatitis C

Antibody test/hepatitis C RNA (blood sample)

Fatty liver disease, non alcoholic fatty liverdisease (NAFLD), non alcoholicsteatohepatitis (NASH)

History/liver function tests (blood sample)/ BMI/ultrasound scan appearance and liver biopsy

Primary biliary cirrhosis

Anti-mitochondrial antibody (blood sample)

Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Biopsy/bile duct imaging – ERCP

Wilson’s disease

Genetic analysis/copper studies (blood and urine samples), slit lamp examination of the eyes.

Understanding tests

When considering a potential diagnosis, your test results should be looked at alongside physical symptoms, lifestyle factors and any current medication. To make the most of each appointment, make sure you have copies of your test results and write down any questions you’d like to ask.

Liver blood tests (formerly known as Liver function tests, or LFTs)

Blood clotting tests

Immunology/autoimmune profile tests

Imaging tests

Endoscopic procedures

Liver biopsy

Testing for viral hepatitis

Support

Please visit the support section of our website for for further help and advice, and to find out about support groups local to you. Our Useful Links section has details of other organisations who may be able to help.

Download publication

For full information please download the publication:

Download current edition:  Liver disease tests explained LDTE/03/2019

Special thanks to: Expert reviewers: Professor Philip Newsome, consultant hepatologist and Director of Centre for Liver Research, University Hospitals Birmingham; Dr Andrew Yeoman, consultant hepatologist and hepatology clinical lead for Wales; Dr Mark Hudson, consultant hepatologist, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Lay reviewers; Emily Lam and Mish Dattani.

View references