The liver plays a crucial role in detoxifying the body. It also produces proteins that are used for clotting the blood and for drawing fluid into the blood vessels, and it is responsible for metabolism, filtration, excretion and storage.
These processes need the help of certain enzymes to help speed up chemical reactions, so that body functions are performed and completed unconsciously, as nature intended. These enzymes are vital to the optimal functioning of the liver. However, there are times when they may reach elevated levels for various reasons.
Elevated Liver Enzymes
Normally, the liver enzymes dwell within the cells of the liver. If the liver becomes damaged these enzymes may leak into the blood stream, thereby increasing the level of enzymes beyond normal limits.
These enzyme levels may be elevated acutely (short term), which may result from a sudden, recent liver injury. They may also be chronic or long-term due to a liver injury that has been occurring for a long period of time.
If the elevation is mild, this translates to a mild liver injury. However, there are times when these enzymes are severely elevated, even as much as 20 times higher than the normal level, and this means serious liver damage may have resulted.
Two of the most common enzymes found are AST and ALT or ‘aspartate aminotransferase’ and ‘alanine aminotransferase’, respectively.
If a person suffers from an acute injury to the liver, such as viral hepatitis, their levels of AST and ALT will be measured by the doctor to determine the severity of the liver damage.
Causes of Elevated Liver Enzymes
The most common cause of liver enzyme elevation is fatty liver disease and chronic hepatitis C. Another cause of exhibiting high liver enzyme levels is from the use of medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen, diclofenac, ibuprofen and other pain relieving medications.
Antibiotics such as isoniazid, sulfonamides and trimethoprim can raise the levels of liver enzymes. Cholesterol lowering and anti-seizure drugs can cause the same problem.
Other Causes of Elevated Liver Enzymes
Elevated liver enzymes can be caused by clinical implications such as:
– metastatic liver tumor
– toxic hepatitis
– active cirrhosis
– severe burns
– myocardial infarction
– acute hemolytic anemia
– shock or crushing injuries.
Symptoms of High Liver Enzymes
Some individuals who have high levels of liver enzymes may not experience any symptoms at all, such as in cases of NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis), chronic hepatitis B or C, and early alcoholic liver disease.
In the case of acute liver disease the person with raised levels of liver enzymes may find they experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tenderness, itching and a loss of libido. Others may feel weak and tired. There are also individuals who bleed easier, as blood clotting problems can be caused by liver damage.
Tests can be performed to check your liver enzyme levels. Once checked, your doctor will determine what may be the cause and what you can do to alleviate or fix the problem. Understanding what might be the cause will be the first step in planning any lifestyle and medical remedial actions.