If your doctor says you have high enzymes, he is referring to an elevated liver enzyme level. High enzymes in your liver indicate damage to the cells or inflammation in your liver. Inflamed liver cells leak higher-than-normal amounts of liver enzymes into the bloodstream. This results in higher-than-normal enzyme level on your blood test. Several diseases result from high enzyme levels. Your doctor likely will perform additional tests to determine the cause of your high enzymes.
Types of Liver Enzymes
Two types of liver enzymes are most commonly found: alanine transaminase and aspartate transaminase . ALT is an enzyme found primarily in the liver that helps your body metabolize protein. ALT levels in the blood are normally low. Levels increase when the liver is damaged and ALT is released into the bloodstream. AST is an enzyme that helps with the metabolism of alanine, an amino acid. AST is normally found in high concentrations but an increase in AST levels may also indicate liver damage or disease.
To test your liver enzyme level, your doctor will perform a liver function test. According to MayoClinic.com, in most cases the enzyme level is only mildly and temporarily elevated. These elevated liver enzymes normally do not signal a chronic, serious liver problem. Normal enzyme levels for adult men are 7 to 55 units per liter for ALT and 8 to 48 units per liter for AST. Normal levels may be slightly different for women and children.
Most Common Causes of High Enzymes
The most common cause of high enzyme levels are medications, such as statin drugs used to control cholesterol and over-the-counter pain medications, including acetaminophen. Other common causes are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and obesity.
Other Causes of High Enzymes
Other causes of high enzymes include liver cancer, hypothyroidism, hemochromatosis, epstein-barr virus, alcoholic hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis, celiac disease, cytomegalovirus infection, cirrhosis, gallbladder inflammation, heart attack, mononucleosis, muscular dystrophy, Wilson's disease, toxic hepatitis, pancreatitis and polymyositis.
If you feel you might have higher-than-normal enzyme levels, consult with your doctor to see whether you need a liver function test. If your test reveals you have elevated liver enzymes, your doctor might run additional tests to determine the cause of your elevated enzyme level.