An elevation of the liver enzymes indicates damage or inflammation to the cells in the liver. These enzymes are normally found inside the liver cells, but when the liver is damaged, the enzymes leak out into the blood stream, where they can be picked up in a blood test. The most commonly tested liver enzymes are ALT, or alanine transaminase; and AST, or aspartate transaminase. A slight elevation of the liver enzymes can precede the symptoms of liver disease.
Liver enlargement is one of the most common symptoms accompanying an elevation of liver enzymes. Enlargement of the liver is called hepatomegaly. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common cause of hepatomegaly is hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver. The hepatitis viruses, including types A, B, and C, can cause hepatomegaly as well as infectious mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Bar virus; alcoholic liver disease; and cancers, like leukemia or lymphoma.
According to Medline Plus, jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes like the mouth and lips, and the whites of the eyes. Jaundice results from an accumulation of bilirubin, a green-yellow colored fluid produced by the liver. Bilirubin helps in the digestion of fats and is also a by-product of the breakdown of red blood cells. The liver usually helps get rid of excess bilirubin. But if the liver is damaged, as indicated by an elevation of the liver enzymes, the problem impairs its ability to clear the extra bilirubin, which then accumulates in the tissues, causing jaundice. The increase in bilirubin can also turn the urine a dark color.
People with slight elevation of the liver enzymes can have symptoms that may appear to not be specific to liver disease. These include fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and poor appetite. The hepatitis B virus can cause elevation of the liver enzymes, joint pain and a rash resembling urticaria, or hives. Polymyositis, an inflammatory condition of the muscles, can cause elevated liver enzymes, muscle weakness, difficulty speaking and swallowing, shortness of breath and fatigue. Celiac disease, a condition characterized by the inability to digest gluten, a protein common in bread and pasta, can cause bloating, diarrhea and weight loss, as well as liver enzymes elevation.