Diagnosing ARLD

NHS

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is often first suspected when tests for other medical conditions show a damaged liver. This is because the condition causes few obvious symptoms in the early stages.

If a doctor suspects ARLD, they'll usually arrange a blood test to check how well your liver is working. They may also ask about your alcohol consumption.

It's important to be totally honest about how much and how often you drink alcohol. This is to avoid further unnecessary testing, which could lead to a delay in the treatment you need.

Blood tests

Blood tests used to assess the liver are known as liver function tests. But liver function tests can be normal at many stages of liver disease.

Blood tests can also detect if you have low levels of certain substances, such as a protein called serum albumin, which is made by the liver.

Further testing

If your symptoms or liver function test suggest an advanced form of ARLD (either alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis), you may need further tests.

Imaging tests

Scans may be needed to produce detailed images of your liver. This may include:

  • an ultrasound scan
  • a CT scan
  • an MRI scan

Some scans may also measure the stiffness of the liver, which is a good indication of whether your liver is scarred.

Liver biopsy

During a liver biopsy, a fine needle is inserted into your body (usually between your ribs). A small sample of liver cells is taken and sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.

Endoscopy

An endoscope is a long, thin, flexible tube with a light and a video camera at one end.  During an endoscopy, the instrument is passed down your oesophagus (the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach) and into your stomach.

Pictures of your oesophagus and stomach are transmitted to an external screen. The doctor will be looking for swollen veins (varices), which are a sign of cirrhosis.

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