Elevated transaminases

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Elevated transaminases
Alanine transaminase is one of the two transaminases measured (Aspartate transaminase is the other).

In medicine, the presence of elevated transaminases, commonly the transaminases alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST), may be an indicator of liver dysfunction.[1][2] Other terms include transaminasemia,[3] transaminitis, and elevated liver enzymes (though they are not the only enzymes in the liver). Normal ranges for both ALT and AST vary by gender, age, and geography and are roughly 8-40 U/L (0.14-0.67 μkal/L).[4] Mild transaminesemia refers to levels up to 250 U/L.[1] Drug-induced increases such as that found with the use of anti-tuberculosis agents such as isoniazid are limited typically to below 100 U/L for either ALT or AST. Muscle sources of the enzymes, such as intense exercise, are unrelated to liver function and can markedly increase AST and ALT.[5] Cirrhosis of the liver or fulminant liver failure secondary to hepatitis commonly reach values for both ALT and AST in the >1000 U/L range; however, many people with liver disease have normal transaminases.[6][7] Elevated transaminases that persist less than six months are termed "acute" in nature, and those values that persist for six months or more are termed "chronic" in nature.


The liver has transaminases to synthesize and break down amino acids and to convert energy storage molecules. The concentrations of these transaminases in the serum (the non-cellular portion of blood) are normally low. However, if the liver is damaged, the liver cell (hepatocyte) membrane becomes more permeable and some of the enzymes leak out into the blood circulation.[citation needed]

The two transaminases commonly measured are alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST).[1] These levels previously were called serum glutamate-pyruvate transaminase (SGPT) and serum glutamate-oxaloacetate transaminase (SGOT). Elevated levels are sensitive for liver injury, meaning that they are likely to be present if there is injury. However, they may also be elevated in other conditions such as thyroid disorders, celiac disease, and muscle disorders.[8]

ALT is usually found only in the liver. AST is most commonly found in the liver, but also in significant amounts in heart (cardiac) and skeletal muscle.[citation needed]

Measurement of ALT and AST were used in diagnosing heart attacks, although they have been replaced by newer enzyme and protein tests that are more specific for cardiac damage.[citation needed]

Possible causes for high ALT levels are liver inflammation (hepatitis A, B, C, infectious mononucleosis, acute viral fever, alcohol, pancreatic disorder), injury to muscles (trauma, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, acute kidney failure), and many toxins and drugs.[9]

Role in diagnosis[edit]

In general, any damage to the liver will cause medium elevations in these transaminases, but diagnosis requires synthesis of many pieces of information, including the patient's history, physical examination, and possibly imaging or other laboratory examinations. However, very high elevations of the transaminases suggests severe liver damage, such as viral hepatitis, liver injury from lack of blood flow, or injury from drugs or toxins. Most disease processes cause ALT to rise higher than AST; AST levels double or triple that of ALT are consistent with alcoholic liver disease.[citation needed]

When the AST is higher than ALT, a muscle source of these enzymes should be considered. For example, muscle inflammation due to dermatomyositis may cause AST>ALT. This is a good reminder that AST and ALT are not good measures of liver function when other sources may influence AST and/or ALT, because they do not reliably reflect the synthetic ability of the liver, and they may come from tissues other than liver (such as muscle).[10] For example, intense exercise such as weight lifting can increase ALT to 50-200 U/L, and AST to 100-1000 U/L for the week following the exercise.[5]

Magnitude of AST and ALT elevations[edit]

The magnitude of AST and ALT elevations vary depending on the cause of the increase, such as intensity of recent muscular exertion or type of hepatocellular injury. The following refer to the "upper reference limit" (URL), also known as the "upper limit of normal" (ULN), which depend on the source and are typically 40-50 U/L (0.67-0.83 μkal/L) for both AST and ALT. While values vary between individuals, the following are typical AST and ALT patterns:[11][12][13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Giboney PT (March 2005). "Mildly Elevated Liver Transaminase Levels in the Asymptomatic Patient". Am Fam Physician. 71 (6): 1105–10. PMID 15791889.
  2. ^ Maddrey, Willis C.; Schiff, Eugene R.; Sorrell, Michael F. (2007). Schiff's diseases of the liver. Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 924. ISBN 978-0-7817-6040-9.
  3. ^ "Transaminasemia: semantic confusion of a clinical dilemma". Calif Med. 114 (6): 45–7. June 1971. PMC 1501958. PMID 5578107.
  4. ^ Ceriotti, F.; et al. (2010). "Common reference intervals for aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and g-glutamyl transferase (GGT) in serum: results from an IFCC multicenter study". Clin Chem Lab Med. 48 (11): 1593–2101. doi:10.1515/CCLM.2010.315. PMID 21034260. S2CID 21929466.
  5. ^ a b Pettersson, J.; et al. (2007). "Muscular exercise can cause highly pathological liver function tests in healthy men". British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 65 (2): 253–259. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2007.03001.x. PMC 2291230. PMID 17764474.
  6. ^ Hall, Philip; Cash, Johnny (January 2012). "What is the Real Function of the Liver 'Function' Tests?". The Ulster Medical Journal. 81 (1): 30–36. ISSN 0041-6193. PMC 3609680. PMID 23536736.
  7. ^ Lominadze, Zurabi; Kallwitz, Eric R. (October 2018). "Misconception: You Can't Have Liver Disease With Normal Liver Chemistries". Clinical Liver Disease. 12 (4): 96–99. doi:10.1002/cld.742. PMC 6385914. PMID 30988921.
  8. ^ Oh, RC; Hustead, TR (1 November 2011). "Causes and evaluation of mildly elevated liver transaminase levels". American Family Physician. 84 (9): 1003–8. PMID 22046940.
  9. ^ Kwo, Paul Y.; Cohen, Stanley M.; Lim, Joseph K. (2017). "ACG Clinical Guideline: Evaluation of Abnormal Liver Chemistries" (PDF). Am. J. Gastroenterol. 112 (1): 18–35. doi:10.1038/ajg.2016.517. PMID 27995906. S2CID 23788795.
  10. ^ Giboney, Paul T. (2005-03-15). "Mildly Elevated Liver Transaminase Levels in the Asymptomatic Patient". American Family Physician. 71 (6): 1105–1110. ISSN 0002-838X. PMID 15791889.
  11. ^ Gitlin, N.; Serio, K. M. (Jul 1992). "Ischemic hepatitis: widening horizons". Am J Gastroenterol. 87 (7): 831–6. PMID 1615936.
  12. ^ Fuchs, S.; Bogomolski-Yahalom, V.; Paltiel, O.; Ackerman, Z. (Apr 1998). "Ischemic hepatitis: clinical and laboratory observations of 34 patients". J Clin Gastroenterol. 26 (3): 183–6. doi:10.1097/00004836-199804000-00007. PMID 9600366.
  13. ^ Henrion, J.; Schapira, M.; Luwaert, R.; Colin, L.; Delannoy, A.; Heller, F. R. (Nov 2003). "Hypoxic hepatitis: clinical and hemodynamic study in 142 consecutive cases". Medicine (Baltimore). 82 (6): 392–406. doi:10.1097/01.md.0000101573.54295.bd. PMID 14663289. S2CID 27754941.
  14. ^ Lok AS, McMahon BJ (February 2007). "Chronic hepatitis B". Hepatology. 45 (2): 507–39. doi:10.1002/hep.21513. hdl:2027.42/55941. PMID 17256718. S2CID 8713169.
  15. ^ Raurich JM, Pérez O, Llompart-Pou JA, Ibáñez J, Ayestarán I, Pérez-Bárcena J (July 2009). "Incidence and outcome of ischemic hepatitis complicating septic shock". Hepatology Research. 39 (7): 700–5. doi:10.1111/j.1872-034X.2009.00501.x. PMID 19473435. S2CID 20312771.

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