Elevated Liver Enzymes, What Do They Mean?

Your lab report may show elevated liver enzymes and you are not sure what they exactly mean. Well, in simple layman’s term elevated liver enzyme usually indicate inflammation of live cells (known as hepatocytes) or some sort of damage/injury to the liver, due to any reason (including infection, exposure to toxic material, trauma etc.). These inflamed hepatocytes leak more than normal chemicals, including enzymes (liver produces lots of enzymes) into blood stream and lead to elevation of liver enzymes that you see in your lab report.

There are two enzymes most commonly elevated in liver, they are Alanine transaminase (ALT) and Aspartate transaminase (AST). Elevated liver enzymes may be found during routine blood tests done for some other medical condition other than suspected liver problem and usually temporary and do not indicate serious medical condition, especially if elevation is mild and commonly seen.

What are the causes of elevated liver enzymes?

There are various medical conditions that may lead to elevated liver enzymes (especially Alanine transaminase and Aspartate transaminase). Your doctor can determine what may be the possible cause of elevated liver enzymes after examining other tests and examining patient and after careful history taking. The cause of elevated liver enzymes include,

    • Hepatitis (hepatitis A, B, C etc.)
    • Alcohol drinking, especially regular and large quantity drinking may lead to cirrhosis
    • Certain prescription medications
    • Non alcoholic fatty liver disease
    • Heart failure
    • Over the counter pain and fever medication such as acetaminophen
    • Obesity can also cause elevated liver enzymes

Less common causes of elevated liver enzymes includes,

  • Infection by CMV (cytomegalovirus)
  • Heart attack
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammation of gall bladder
  • Epstein barr virus infection
  • Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, common among persons infected with hepatitis B virus)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of pancreas)
  • Toxic hepatitis i.e. inflammation of liver due to toxins or drugs
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Autoimmune disease affecting liver

Should you see a doctor if you have elevated liver enzymes?
This question should be different. Because you know your liver enzymes are elevated because you have already seen a doctor. This question should be what the next step should be, if you find you have elevated liver enzymes. If you have mild and temporary elevated liver enzymes, this usually mean there is no serious medical condition involved. However, your doctor may ask some more blood tests and other tests to determine the possible cause of elevated liver enzymes.

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