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Elevated Liver & Pancreas Enzymes

author image Ruben J. Nazario
Ruben J. Nazario has been a medical writer and editor since 2007. His work has appeared in national print and online publications. Nazario is a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and is board-certified in pediatrics. He also has a Master of Arts in liberal studies from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Elevated Liver & Pancreas Enzymes
Lab tests can measure the levels of liver and pancreatic enzymes. Photo Credit lab image by Alhazm Salemi from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

The liver and the pancreas are important organs in the digestion and processing of the foods we eat. The liver produces bile, which helps in the digestion of fats, while the pancreas secretes various enzymes, including amylase and lipase that help in the digestion of sugars, fats and proteins. An elevation of certain liver and pancreatic enzymes in the bloodstream usually signals damage to these organs.

Causes of Liver Enzymes Elevation

Elevation of the liver enzymes results from inflammation, infection or trauma to that organ. These cause leakage of liver enzymes into the circulation, which results in elevation of liver enzymes on blood tests. The two most commonly measured liver enzymes are AST, or aspartate transaminase, and ALT, or alanine transaminase. According to Mayo Clinic.com, liver enzyme elevation can result from prescription medicines; from viruses, such as the hepatitis, Epstein-Barr, herpes and cytomegalovirus; from fatty liver disease; and from alcoholism.

Causes of Pancreatic Enzyme Elevation

The pancreas secretes several enzymes and hormones, including lipase, amylase and insulin. In the face of damage from trauma, infection or inflammation, the pancreas leaks some of its enzymes into the bloodstream. According to Lab Tests Online, the level of lipase in the bloodstream during acute pancreatitis usually rises within one to two days of the initial insult to the pancreas, and can stay elevated for up to a week. Common causes of pancreatic enzyme elevation include gallstones, trauma, alcoholism, tumors, infections and genetic disorders.

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There are several symptoms that go along with liver damage and enzyme elevation, including pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, where the abdomen is located; nausea, vomiting and weight loss; and weakness. Dark-colored urine and pale stools can also be symptoms of hepatitis. Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, usually causes pain in the mid-abdomen that can extend to the back; nausea and vomiting; paleness; fever and tachycardia, or rapid heart rate.


If gallstones cause elevation of the pancreatic enzymes, they and the gallbladder may need to be surgically removed. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, infection of the pancreas can develop an abscess, or a collection of pus, that may need antibiotic and surgical treatment. Pseudocysts, or fluid collections around the pancreas, can also develop following damage to this organ. Depending on its cause, elevation of liver enzymes may indicate chronic hepatitis, especially if caused by the hepatitis B or C virus. Long-term inflammation and damage to the liver can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring and shrinking of the liver tissue.

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