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Several conditions and disorders can contribute to elevated liver enzymes.

What are the liver enzymes?

Liver enzymes are the chemicals that are released by the liver for the proper functioning of the digestive system.

There are several functions of liver enzymes but the mainly, these enzymes help in the digestion of food.

This should be kept in mind that specific enzymes of any specific organ rise in the case when that organ is damaged. For example, raised cardiac enzymes indicate damage to the heart and raised renal enzymes indicate damage to the kidneys.

Specific liver enzymes

The most common specific liver enzymes are

  • Alanine transaminase (ALT)

  • Aspartate transaminase (AST)

Elevated liver enzymes indicate damage to the liver. There's no doubt that the liver is not functioning properly if you see raised liver enzymes. However, it is imperative to find the exact cause of the raised enzymes level.

Note to remember: Liver enzymes are mostly found to be mildly elevated when a person is on certain medication, like NSAIDs.

Why does the organ damage result in higher enzymes?

The cells, when injured, damaged, or inflamed, release abnormally higher amount of the enzymes. The enzymes are release directly into the blood stream which is why blood tests reveal abnormally higher level of enzymes.

What conditions cause raised liver enzymes?

There are several conditions that directly or indirectly cause the liver enzymes to rise. Some of the most common conditions that raise liver enzymes include:

  • Certain medications: Statins, Cholesterol lowering agents, over-the-counter painkillers, etc.

  • Excess alcohol intake: Alcohol is known to have a direct impact on liver and pancreas

  • Hepatitis A

  • Hepatitis B

  • Hepatitis C

  • Fatty disease of the liver: Fat accumulation on the liver surface

  • Obesity

Some serious causes that may cause the liver enzymes to rise include:

  • Liver cirrhosis: Scarring of the liver, also called liver cirrhosis, is a chronic liver disease. It can be fatal because, as the disease progresses, it begins involving different organs/systems of the body.

  • Autoimmune hepatitis: A person's own immune cells attack the hepatocytes (liver cells). This causes damage to the liver resulting in raised ALT & AST

  • Alcoholic Hepatitis: Found in the people who take alcohol in excess for months or years.

  • Celiac disease: Damage to the small intestine due to gluten is celiac disease. This disease causes the liver enzymes to rise because small intestine is connected to the liver with bile duct. Bile duct carries bile and drains into the duodenum (part of small intestine).

  • Heart attack

  • Hemochromatosis

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection

  • Cholecystitis - inflammation of the gall bladder

  • Pancreatitis

  • Wilson's disease

When to see your doctor?

This is the question that should arise in everyone's mind who has deranged liver enzymes. It is highly recommended that you visit your doctor if you find your liver enzymes rose with or without any known cause. This is because any person with raised liver enzymes is advised to go through further testing i.e Hepatitis B & C screening, most commonly.

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