The GGT Test Review
Health disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, and stomach cancer often manifest themselves in similar ways. These include symptoms such as stomach pain, a lack of appetite, and fatigue.
As such, it is not easy to tell what one might be suffering from exactly. This is why doctors often recommend several tests to shorten the list of your potential conditions. One of the most critical examinations is the GGT test.
This article aims to fill you in on everything you need to know about the GGT test.
What is the GGT Test?
The initials GGT stand for gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase, and the GGT test is a tool used to measure the amount of the GGT enzyme in your blood. Enzymes are one of the most essential substances in the body as they act as catalysts for essential biochemical reactions. The GGT enzyme serves as a transport molecule and works to transport various body molecules to the sites where they are needed. GGT also plays a significant role in assisting the liver in metabolizing drugs as well as toxins.
As such, a lot of the body’s GGT is found in the liver. However, there are also some traces of the enzyme in the kidneys, pancreas, spleen, and gallbladder. When the liver is under stress or damaged, GGT levels tend to be abnormally high.
Why Perform the GGT Test?
The liver is responsible for some of the most vital processes in the body. Some of these processes include filtering out toxic substances in addition to producing proteins. It also produces bile – the substance that facilitates the processing of fats in the body.
Typically, when doctors are trying to determine whether your liver has any problem, especially one that is related to alcohol abuse, they’ll recommend a GGT test. This because, at the moment, the GGT test is the most accurate enzymatic indicator of liver disease or damage. The most common causes of liver damage are the abusing of drugs and alcohol.
The following symptoms may signify that you have a compromised liver:
- Lack of energy
- A decrease in appetite
- Vomiting or nausea
- Abdominal pains
- Itchy skin
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
- Light-colored feces
- Untypically dark urine
Sometimes, physicians conduct the GGT test to ensure that you are following through with your promise to abstain from alcohol after completing an alcohol rehabilitation program. People who have gone through alcohol hepatitis treatment are also routinely checked for their GGT levels using the GGT test.
What GGT Levels are considered as Being Normal?
As mentioned earlier, the liver has the highest concentration of GGT enzymes of any organ in the body. While the blood and other organs may also contain GGT, they are usually minuscule amounts. As such, high levels of the enzyme in the blood suggests that there might be a potential leakage of GGT from the liver and into the blood, implying potential damage to the liver.
For a healthy person, GGT levels typically range between 0 and 30 international units per liter (IU/L). However, babies tend to have significantly higher levels of GGT immediately after birth.
As such, if someone’s GGT level is within the normal range, they most probably have a healthy liver. Also, if someone who has been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder displays normal readings, it means that they have not been using alcohol lately.
The key takeaway here, therefore, is that high GGT levels imply that the liver has some kind of damage. Nonetheless, the test doesn’t diagnose the specific problem that the individual has. As such, they will have to take on more tests to determine the cause behind the elevated levels of GGT.
Your doctor might also order a GGT test if you are under medication that could have potentially toxic effects on your liver.
The Most Common Causes of Elevated GGT Levels
While there could be an infinite number of reasons why your GGT levels are high, the following are the most common causes:
- Damage to the bile duct or liver
A bile duct obstruction is almost always followed by a rise in GGT levels, thus making the GGT test one of the most effective tools for detecting bile-duct-related problems.
The GGT test is usually among a battery of tests referred to as the liver panel, which also measures the levels of other enzymes in the liver, such as alkaline phosphatase (ALP), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and bilirubin. The GGT test only helps to narrow down the list of potential causes.
Elevated ALP levels typically result from bile duct/liver or bone disease. Performing the GGT test helps to differentiate between the two. For instance, if you have elevated ALP levels but normal GGT levels, it could most probably be a bone problem. However, if both ALP and GGT levels are elevated, it could likely be a liver or bile duct issue.
- Long-term alcohol abuse
Individuals who drink heavily typically have higher levels of GGT than people who drink moderately or heavily on occasion. This is why the GGT test is one of the most effective tools for monitoring alcohol use among individuals receiving treatment for an alcohol abuse disorder.
The GGT Test Procedure
The GGT test is a straightforward blood test. The test involves getting a band tied around your upper arm, your inner elbow thoroughly cleaned using an alcohol pad, and getting a tiny needle inserted into your skin to collect your blood.
After extracting a few ml of blood, the needle and band are removed, and pressure applied to the site of injection so as to stop the bleeding. Just like any other type of blood test, all you can expect is minor and temporary discomfort, which quickly subsides.
Your blood sample will then be labeled and sent to a laboratory for testing. Most labs usually release the reports of their findings within a day or two. Nonetheless, the doctor might take a couple of more days to receive and interpret those findings.
What are the Implications of Your GGT Results?
Upon receiving the results of your GGT test, the doctor will analyze them, then call you in to interpret them for you i.e., let you know whether you are in the normal range or not. There are various debates regarding what the actual normal range is since some say it is between 0 and 30, while others say it is between 9 and 48. Nonetheless, ‘normal’ is relative since it varies according to sex and age.
As mentioned earlier, a GGT test will help determine whether your liver has a problem. However, it is not able to pinpoint what the actual problem is. This means you may have to undergo additional tests.
In addition to liver/bile duct damage and alcohol abuse, other conditions that might be the cause for your elevated GGT levels include:
- Chronic viral hepatitis
- Overuse of certain drugs
- Heart failure
How Accurate is the GGT Test?
Levels of the GGT enzyme in your body are continually fluctuating as the enzyme is very sensitive. This is why your physician will try and perform the test when you are in the most natural state possible. For instance, they might ask you to stop drinking for a few weeks before taking the test. If you are a heavy drinker, it can take up to four weeks since your last drink for your GGT to fall back to normal levels. You should also stop smoking since it also increases GGT levels.
They might also ask you to not take a certain medication in the days leading up to the test. For example, phenobarbital, barbiturates, and other non-prescription medications are known to increase GGT levels in the body. It has also been observed that the levels of GGT tend to increase as women get older, but this doesn’t occur in men.
Risks and Side Effects of the GGT Test
As mentioned, the GGT test is a simple blood test; therefore, there’s nothing to be concerned about. However, some people have been known to experience anxiety during the test and pass out as a result of it. However, this is not as a result of the test, but rather, an underlying psychological issue in the individual.
The liver is one of those organs where even a slight problem can cause a cascade of life-threatening health problems. In some cases, depending on the extent of the damage, the repercussions can be irreversible.
The GGT test is an essential go-to tool when looking to determine whether an individual has liver damage. If you notice any symptoms that mirror those of a faulty liver, be sure to consult your physician so they can test you, determine the cause, and get you started on a treatment program.
Ultimately, drinking alcohol responsibly, quitting smoking, losing weight, and living a generally healthy lifestyle are the first steps towards lowering your GGT levels and protecting your liver. It is also recommended that you regularly take the GGT test to monitor the health of your liver.