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What Are the Causes of High Liver Levels?

author image Rhonda Merritt
Rhonda Merritt started freelance writing in 2010. She is a registered nurse specializing in cardiac rehabilitation and cardiac care. Merritt has her personal fitness coach certification and is a certified CPR instructor. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing. Merritt graduated from Edinboro University in 1988.
What Are the Causes of High Liver Levels?
A simple blood test can determine high liver levels.

High liver levels, or elevated liver enzymes, indicate damage or inflammation to liver cells, says The most common liver enzymes are alanine transaminase, or ALT, and aspartate transaminase, or AST. These enzymes, the most reliable markers of liver injury, are leaked into the bloodstream when liver cells are injured and measured with a blood test. In most cases, high levels are temporary and mild. There are several conditions and diseases that can cause high liver levels, from viruses to medications.


Hepatitis means "inflammation of the liver" and also refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver, explains the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis is classified with letters from A to E, with hepatitis A being the most common. Because hepatitis causes inflammation, the liver enzymes are typically elevated in hepatitis patients. For example, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse states that in hepatitis C, ALT levels are usually higher than AST levels. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that in hepatitis B or C, the AST/ALT ratio is less than 1.0.

Wilson's Disease

The University of Maryland Medical Center describes Wilson's disease as an inherited disorder in which there is too much copper in the body's tissues, damaging the liver and nervous system. The deposits of copper cause tissue damage, death of the tissues and scarring. This causes the affected organ to stop working correctly. If the liver is affected, laboratory tests may find elevated liver enzymes AST and ALT.

Celiac Disease

The journal "Hepatology" states that celiac disease is a common chronic immune-mediated disorder of the small intestine, caused by dietary intake of gluten in wheat, barley and rye. Several liver disorders have been described in association with celiac disease. The most common---and often the only---laboratory test indicator of liver injury in celiac disease patients is mild to moderate elevated levels of AST and/or ALT. This elevation is less than five times the upper limit of normal. Increase in ALT is more common than AST.


A 2008 study published in the "British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology" found that muscular exercise can cause high pathological liver function tests in healthy men. The enzymes AST and ALT were significantly increased for at least seven days after intensive weightlifting; other liver functions called LD, CKL and myoglobin also showed highly elevated levels. Physical exercise can result in elevated liver enzymes, especially AST, due to muscle breakdown and injury.

Medications and Supplements

The American Academy of Family Physicians lists common agents such as medications, herbal supplements and vitamins that can cause liver enzyme elevations. Medications include acetaminophen, statins, Glyburide, Heparin, Labetelol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Vitamins and supplements include ephedra, kava, senna, shark cartilage and vitamin A.

Other Causes

Other possible causes of high liver function levels include alcohol abuse, cirrhosis, mononucleosis, hyperthyroidism, obesity, gallbladder inflammation, heart attack, pancreatitis and muscular dystrophy.

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