For anyone worried that they could have liver damage, home liver tests seem to offer an easy and confidential way to check. Lots of companies now offer liver blood tests. You can buy them directly from a company website or from other big online shops. But can these tests really tell you if your liver is healthy?
What are liver blood tests?
Liver blood tests are sometimes called LFTs or liver function tests. They look at some of the proteins and other things that are made by your liver. Having too much or too little of these in your blood can be a sign of liver problems.
But these tests on their own cannot tell you how your liver is doing. Some people with a serious liver condition will have blood test results that look normal.
If you have these tests through your doctor, they will look at the results alongside all your other medical information. If they think there could be a problem, they will ask for more tests.
The results you get can also vary from day to day. Doctors often ask you to have the tests again in a few weeks. Lots of people get a result that is outside the normal range once, but then goes back to normal.
Can I check my liver at home?
Doing a home liver blood test is like getting just one little piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It cannot show you the whole picture.
If your test result is “normal” it could mean your liver is fine. But it could mean that your problem did not show up on the test.
A result “out of the normal range” on its own doesn’t mean very much. You will need more tests to find out what is going on. Lots of people with normal healthy livers will sometimes get out of range test results. This can cause a lot of unnecessary worry and mean you end up having more tests that you might not need.
Do home liver tests work?
Some of the test companies use well qualified staff and work to the same standards as NHS labs. But it can be hard to be sure of this. Especially if you are buying a test online.
Can a doctor look at my test results?
Some private test companies say that a doctor or nurse will look at your result. Some of them charge extra for this. And others tell you to take the results to your GP.
If the company’s doctor or nurse is looking at your result, they will only be able to give you part of the information you need. They may ask for some basic information about your health. But they will not have your medical records or the results of other tests you have had on the NHS.
If you take the results of a private test to your GP they should be able to tell you if they are in the normal range. But even with your medical records they will not be able to say for sure if you have a liver problem.
Your GP might also be worried about the quality of the home test. If your result is out of the normal range, they will often ask you to have the test done again on the NHS. So it is quicker to just get the test from you GP in the first place, rather than doing a home test first.
Are home liver tests worth it?
Many of us worry about our health. We might have other health issues or know that some of the things we do are not as healthy as they could be. So it is tempting to try home tests. Especially if you do not feel comfortable talking to your GP about your worries. Or if you are having trouble getting an appointment.
But if you are worried about your liver, then a home test on its own cannot tell you if your liver is healthy or not.
They can also be very expensive. Many cost around £40, but we have seen tests being sold for over £100.
Some cheaper tests use urine instead of blood. But these do not look at all the things a blood test does. So they are even less reliable.
What is the best way to check your liver?
If you are worried about your liver health the best thing to do is to talk to your GP. Be honest about why you think you might have a problem. Liver disease is very common. 9 in 10 cases are caused by things like drinking alcohol or being overweight. So your GP will have spoken to people in a similar situation before.
If you have symptoms of liver disease you need to get medical help quickly. Doing a home test will only delay this.
You can also find lots of information about liver conditions in our conditions A-Z. Or call our nurse helpline on 0800 652 7330. Our friendly team can’t interpret test results for you, but they can answer questions, offer support, or just listen.
Our free, confidential online screener cannot diagnose a liver condition. But it can help you to learn more about your personal risk factors.
The only home test we recommend is the free NHS hepatitis C test. This is available to anyone who lives in England and might be at risk from hepatitis C. Hepatitis C can be treated by taking tablets for a few weeks. Most people have no side effects and will completely get rid of the virus. But without treatment it can lead to serious liver disease or liver cancer, often many years after you pick up the virus. So always get tested if you think you might be at risk.