Elevated Liver Enzymes
What does the liver do and what are elevated liver enzymes?
The liver is the body's largest internal organ. It is located below the diaphragm on the right side of the abdomen. The liver performs many functions, including the following:
- Produces most of the proteins the body needs.
- Metabolizes (breaks down) nutrients from food to produce energy.
- Prevents shortages of nutrients by storing certain vitamins, minerals, and sugar.
- Produces bile, a substance that helps digest fat and absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Produces substances that help with blood clotting.
- Helps your body fight infection by removing bacteria from the blood.
- Removes potentially poisonous byproducts of certain medications.
What are liver enzymes?
An enzyme is a chemical that accelerates (speeds up) chemical reactions within the body. There are several enzymes in the liver, including alanine transaminase (ALT), aspartate transaminase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT). Elevated liver enzymes, found with a blood test, indicate inflamed or injured liver cells.
Why does a doctor check for elevated liver enzymes?
A doctor may order a liver enzyme test if a patient is being treated for liver disease or has a higher risk for liver disease. For instance, if the liver is injured, ALT is released into the bloodstream, and levels of this enzyme would be elevated.
What causes elevated liver enzymes?
Certain diseases or situations can cause a rise in liver enzymes, including:
- Hepatitis (inflammation, or swelling, of the liver).
- Fatty liver disease (a buildup of certain fats in the liver).
- Metabolic syndrome (a collection of heart disease risk factors that increase the chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes).
- Cirrhosis (the liver tissue is filled with scar tissue).
- Drug abuse.
What are the signs and symptoms of elevated liver enzymes?
Elevated liver enzymes usually have no signs or symptoms on their own. The doctor may check for elevated liver enzymes in patients who might have hepatitis. The symptoms of hepatitis include:
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes caused by liver problems).
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dark urine.
- Pale-colored stools.
- Poor appetite.
The doctor may also order a liver enzyme test for patients who:
- Drink a great deal of alcohol or abuse drugs.
- Have a family history of liver disease.
- Are overweight.
- Have diabetes.
Care and Treatment
What is the treatment for someone who has elevated liver enzymes?
Depending on what is causing the rise in liver enzymes, your doctor may advise you to stop drinking alcohol or using certain drugs, lose weight, or eat a healthier diet. If your liver enzymes remain elevated, your doctor may order other tests, or may refer you to a specialist in liver diseases.