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definition - elevated transaminases

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Elevated transaminases

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Elevated transaminases
Classification and external resources

Alanine transaminase is one of the two transaminases measured (Aspartate transaminase is the other)
DiseasesDB14820 15393

In medicine, the presence of elevated transaminases, commonly the transaminases alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST), may be an indicator of liver damage.[1] Other terms employed include transaminasemia[2] and transaminitis, although the latter is considered pathologically meaningless.[3]



The biochemical hub of the body, the liver, has a variety of transaminases to synthesize and break down amino acids and to interconvert energy storage molecules. The concentrations of these in the serum (the non-cellular portion of blood) are normally low. However, if the liver is damaged, the hepatocyte cell membrane becomes more permeable and some of the enzymes leak out into the blood stream. The two transaminases commonly measured are alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST).[4] These levels previously were called the serum glutamate-pyruvate transaminase (SGPT) and the serum glutamate-oxaloacetate transaminase (SGOT). Elevated levels are quite 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. ALT is not commonly found outside the liver; AST too is most commonly found in the liver, but also in significant amounts in cardiac (heart) and skeletal muscle. In fact, measurement of these used to be part of diagnosing heart attacks, although newer enzymes and proteins that are more specific for cardiac damage have largely replaced this usage.

Role in diagnosis

In general, any damage to the liver will cause medium elevations in these transaminases (usually called liver enzymes, though of course they are not the only enzymes in the liver). And 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.

Levels over 1000 can be associated with ischemic hepatitis.[5]

See also


  1. Giboney PT (March 2005). [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Mildly elevated liver transaminase levels in the asymptomatic patient"]. Am Fam Physician 71 (6): 1105–10. PMID 15791889. 
  2. [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Transaminasemia: semantic confusion of a clinical dilemma"]. Calif Med 114 (6): 45–7. June 1971. PMID 5578107. 
  3. Maddrey, Willis C.; Schiff, Eugene R.; Sorrell, Michael F. (2007). Schiff's diseases of the liver. Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 924. ISBN 0-7817-6040-2. 
  4. "Mildly Elevated Liver Transaminase Levels in the Asymptomatic Patient - March 15, 2005 - American Family Physician". http://www.aafp.org/afp/20050315/1105.html. Retrieved 2009-07-11. 
  5. 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". Hepatol. Res. 39 (7): 700–5. doi:10.1111/j.1872-034X.2009.00501.x. PMID 19473435. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/resolve/openurl?genre=article&sid=nlm:pubmed&issn=1386-6346&date=2009&volume=39&issue=7&spage=700. 


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