Information Screening Elevated Liver Enzymes

Elevated liver enzymes are an early sign of possible liver damage. The liver plays an important role in digesting food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating toxic substances from the body. Left untreated, liver damage can cause serious complications, including liver failure. The most common cause of elevated liver enzymes is prescription medication, particularly statin drugs meant to control cholesterol levels.

A person with slightly to moderately elevated liver enzymes typically experiences no symptoms, so a medical screening test is important, especially if you’re taking statin drugs for cholesterol management.

What Are Elevated Liver Enzymes?

An enzyme is a protein that acts as a catalyst for chemical reactions. Two main enzymes are located in liver cells: alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). When liver cells are injured or become inflamed, these enzymes leak into the bloodstream.

Who is at Risk for Elevated Liver Enzymes?

You may be at risk for elevated liver enzymes if you’re taking any of the following cholesterol-lowering medications:

  • Advicor®
  • Caduet®
  • Crestor®
  • Gemfibrozil®
  • Lescol®
  • Lipitor®
  • Lopid®
  • Lovastatin®
  • Mevacor®
  • Nicotinic acid
  • Pravachol®
  • Pravastatin®
  • Simvastatin®
  • Tricor®
  • Vytorin®
  • Zocor®.

How Does Elevated Liver Enzymes Screening Work?

The medical screening test for elevated liver enzymes is a quick, simple finger-stick blood test. You don’t need to fast or otherwise prepare for this test. After taking a sample of blood, a lab technician will analyze it for liver enzymes. High liver enzymes may indicate a liver problem. The numbers of enzymes that imply damage vary depending on the type of enzyme as well as the patient’s gender:

ALT, for males:

  • Desirable: 10 to 40 U/L (units per liter)
  • Possible liver damage: more than 120 U/L
  • Possible severe liver damage: more than 200 U/L.

ALT, for females:

  • Desirable: 7 to 35 U/L
  • Possible liver damage: more than 105 U/L
  • Possible severe liver damage: more than 175 U/L.

AST, for males:

  • Desirable: 15 to 40 U/L
  • Possible liver damage: more than 120 U/L
  • Possible severe liver damage: more than 200 U/L.

AST, for females:

  • Desirable: 13 to 35 U/L
  • Possible liver damage: more than 105 U/L
  • Possible severe liver damage: more than 175 U/L.

If you’re taking cholesterol-lowering medication, get a medical screening test for elevated liver enzymes to monitor potential liver damage.

Preventing Elevated Liver Enzymes

There isn’t much you can do to prevent elevated liver enzymes. However, taking steps to prevent high cholesterol may result in a reduced need for cholesterol-lowering medications, which lowers your risk for elevated liver enzymes. To reduce your risk of high cholesterol, eat a balanced diet that is low in fat and sodium but high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. If you smoke, quit. Make an effort to lose extra pounds, and drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Talk to your doctor for proper guidance.

Resources

LifeLine Screening (n.d.). Screening for elevated liver enzymes. Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/elevated-liver-enzymes.aspx?WT.svl=1.

Mayo Clinic (2009). Elevated liver enzymes. Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/elevated-liver-enzymes/MY00508.

Nabili, S. (2008). Liver blood test. Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://www.medicinenet.com/liver_blood_tests/article.htm.