What Causes Elevated Liver Enzymes?

A doctor with a pen in his hand and illustration of a liver tries to understand the causes of elevated liver enzymes


The liver plays a pivotal role in a human body. Do you agree any less? Probably not!
It functions to purify your blood and serves as a dwelling house of energy. From breaking down the food to creating protein, functioning as building blocks in the body, the role of a human liver is big league. Various symptoms show up when any of these functions come to a grinding halt. For instance, your skin might turn pale and yellow or you might even put up with disorders of slurred speech. This is when the liver function tests are performed. ‘Elevated liver enzymes’ is a condition worth knowing. When the cells in the organ experience a damage, contributing to unwanted inflammation, the condition springs up. These swelled up injured liver cells fissures out chemicals into the bloodstream, including liver enzymes. This naturally hikes up the ratio of liver enzymes, showing up in the blood tests. Some of the commonly known enzymes transmitted into the bloodstream are:

Elevations in the above-mentioned liver enzymes are usually 2-3 times higher than the normal range, casting ill effects on the system. Fatigue, mood swings, loss of sex drive, nausea and pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen are some of the obvious symptoms. However, if the condition worsens, it might lead to chronic hepatitis B or C and the very harrowing alcoholic liver disease. Let’s delve into the major causes of elevated liver enzyme and gain a clearer insight.

Elevated Liver Enzyme – What are the causes?

  1. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) The condition is marked by an abnormal quantity of fat stacking up in the liver of individuals who might drink very less or no alcohol at all. Listing down the symptoms of this condition is quite difficult as no forms of complications are observed. It is a common disease, targeting a good 30% of the population in the world. Upon diagnosis, more than 5-10% of the liver’s total weight is recorded to be just fat. If the ratio of fat continues to increase, it might as well pave way for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Not many treatments options are available. However, it is imperative to keep a check on one’s diet and cut down weight in a healthy manner.
  2. Medicines – Little did you know that the medicines you are gulping down to experience relief from a condition might cause elevated liver enzyme. Certain drugs are well-known to cause liver injury. Over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol or acetaminophen, naproxen, and ibuprofen for instance. Antibiotics at times affect the liver by large. Liver injury caused by medicines is classified into two types – predictable and idiosyncratic or unpredictable. The former exemplifies medicines that are already known to damage the liver. So, the more you consume, the worse is the damage. The idiosyncratic liver condition, on the other hand, is unpredictable.
  3. Hemochromatosis The condition is better known as an iron metabolism disorder. It is mostly inherited. In such a condition, the ratio of iron stacked in the liver is much higher than normal. This abnormal accumulation of iron spikes up liver enzymes, particularly AST and ALT. Hemochromatosis is further subdivided into three types – primary or the hereditary hemochromatosis, secondary and neonatal. Treating the condition aims at warding off the excess iron, causing damage to the liver. Usually, procedures like phlebotomy and bloodletting are carried out. For those not regular with phlebotomy, deferoxamine is prescribed. It is crucial to kiss goodbye to the complications of hemochromatosis. Leaving it untreated can cause serious other ailments like cirrhosis and Big C in the liver.
  4. Hepatitis – Diseases like hepatitis are not uncommon. It clearly highlights a condition wherein the liver swells up due to severe viral attack. It can be caused due to
    Hepatitis A virus, B virus and C virus. While the former type A is curable, hepatitis B and C are often labeled as chronic. The latter variants of hepatitis can catalyze chances of developing liver cirrhosis and cancer. Vaccinations are available to cut-back the effects of virus B. Chronic infections caused by virus B and C can be abated using ribavirin and interferon. Conditions caused by these viruses do spike up the amount of liver enzymes in the blood.
  5. Deficiency of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin – Did you know that Alpha-1 Antitrypsin is a protein that shelters the lungs? A cut-back in this protein causes damage to air sacs in the lungs. The condition is termed as emphysema. It is the liver that secretes Alpha-1 Antitrypsin. Of course, the ratio must be correct and produced in the right shape. Surplus production of the protein casts a bad impact. It hosts on the liver cells causing damage and augments liver enzymes like AST and ALT. To treat the condition, much attention needs to be paid in barring chances of liver damage and a slackened lung function. Apart from vaccination, one of the most promising ways to cure the condition is by quitting smoking.

Acute infections and genetic disorders could also amp up liver enzymes. Go, visit a doctor if you are struck by an illness that causes your liver and spleen to swell.