High Liver Enzymes

Understanding High Liver Enzymes

If your doctor has told you that your blood sample has tested positive for high liver enzymes, you might not be sure what that means.  Of course, you never want to hear that something is wrong in that part of your body.  A result of high liver enzymes is actually only the beginning.  It could be any of several conditions that presents with elevated levels of liver enzymes as one of its symptoms.  

Here is an incomplete list in alphabetical order:


One possible cause of a high liver enzyme count is alcohol use.  As you no doubt already know, alcohol can damage the liver, leading to alcohol induced hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver.  One of the early reactions the liver may have to excessive alcohol is to flood the liver with enzymes in an attempt to handle both the alcohol and its normal digestive duties.  Because alcohol will demand primary attention, however, food may largely go undigested and the liver wall itself may have difficulty dealing with the high enzyme count.


Unfortunately, the presence of cancerous tumors may also cause elevated enzyme levels in the liver.  This is certainly a dread diagnosis, but before you decide on any course of action, you need to get further clarification from your physician, since there are many different types of cancer that can lead to this symptom.


Diabetes may also lead to high liver enzymes because those with diabetes are prone through a series of different factors including tendency toward obesity, to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that may lead to several serious problems if left untreated.


Certain naturally occurring conditions such as gallstones may also cause elevated enzyme levels.  If you have gallstones, your high enzyme count will likely be due to the enzyme alanine aminotransferase, which only typically arises when gallstones are present.


High liver enzymes characterize a series of hepatitis conditions.  We have already noted alcohol as a probable cause for hepatitis, but so can a series of auto-immune diseases, especially auto-immune hepatitis which involves the bodies own attack on the liver as a noxious object.

Herbal Substances

If you are really into the whole herbal medicine scene and have been taking excessive amounts of herbs such as kava kava or comfrey, you may find that overuse of such substances can cause problems with the liver that will lead to excessively high liver enzymes.


Several types of viral infections may also alter levels of liver enzymes.  The most common is mononucleosis.  Known colloquially as “mono” or the “kisser’s disease,” mononucleosis is a viral infection associated with Epstein-Barr Syndrome and a subset of the herpes virus.


A series of medications also have effects on the levels of enzymes in the liver.  The usual suspects in this case are antibiotics, cholesterol medicines, anti-seizure meds, and anti-inflammatory drugs.  These may be especially dangerous if taken in combination with other conditions that have effects on the liver.


Obesity also may lead to high liver enzymes.  This is because obesity puts such a strain on the digestive system that it may overwhelm the liver, making it overreact to the fat content in the organ.  The fats associated with obesity, termed triglycerides, may lead to further problems for the liver if they are present in levels too high for regular digestion.

Other causes

This is, of course an incomplete list.  Not mentioned here, for example, are cirrhosis, primary cholangitis, hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, and the other metabolic liver diseases that often lead to changes in the levels of enzymes in the liver.

Regardless of what the cause of your high liver enzymes is, you should be sure to follow up with your physician so that the two of you can determine the cause and the course of treatment you should follow.  Liver problems are never something to ignore.