JOURNAL ARTICLE

The clinical significance of slightly to moderately increased liver transaminase values in asymptomatic patients

U L Mathiesen, L E Franzén, A Frydén, U Foberg, G Bodemar
Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 1999, 34 (1): 85-91
10048738

BACKGROUND: Our aim was to study liver disorders in asymptomatic patients with slightly to moderately increased liver transaminase values in a population living in an area with a low prevalence of viral and hereditary liver diseases.

METHODS: One hundred and fifty consecutive patients with slightly to moderately increased liver transaminases for at least 6 months without symptoms or signs of liver disease were included. Median (range) was 0.75 microkat/l (0.24-2.9) for aspartate aminotransferase (ASAT) and 1.18 microkat/l (0.28-4.5) for alanine aminotransferase (ALAT). A percutaneous liver biopsy was performed, and blood was sampled for a detailed biochemical and serologic profile.

RESULTS: Chronic viral hepatitis C was found in 15.3% of the patients, autoimmune hepatitis in 1.3%, primary biliary cirrhosis in 1.3%, and heterozygotic alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency in 0.7%. Presumed alcoholic liver disease was diagnosed in 8%, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis in 2%. Chronic hepatitis with no obvious etiology was diagnosed in 24%, of whom 39% had interface hepatitis (piecemeal activity). Seventy-one per cent of these 39% had measurable levels of autoantibodies, but IgG levels within normal limits prevented the 'clinical' diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis. Liver steatosis was the diagnosis in 40%. Most were overweight and had increased serum triglyceride levels. However, in 13.3% the fatty infiltration was considered 'essential', as both body mass index (BMI) and triglyceride levels were normal. Other diagnoses were liver fibrosis with no obvious inflammatory activity (3.3%), cirrhosis of unknown etiology (0.7%), and for the remaining (3.3%) patients histopathologic findings were considered 'normal'. Cirrhosis was found in five biopsy specimens: hepatitis C (n = 2), autoimmune hepatitis (n = 1), primary biliary cirrhosis (n = 1), and cryptogenic cirrhosis (n = 1). No concomitant disease was of importance for the diagnosis and/or histopathologic findings. No obvious drug-related increased liver test results were found with any single drug. However, patients with chronic hepatitis of unknown etiology, especially with interface hepatitis, significantly more often than the rest of the population were receiving drug treatment.

CONCLUSION: Most transaminitis patients had steatosis, and some had defined diseases including chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis of unknown etiology was found in a substantial proportion (24%) of a population living in an area with a low burden of hepatic viruses and genetic disorders.

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