Liver Function Tests

Liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver function tests, also known as hepatic function panels, are one of the most commonly performed screening blood tests. Such tests are also used to detect, evaluate, and monitor acute and chronic liver diseases. Liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver function tests assess the levels of various hepatic proteins and enzymes Enzymes Enzymes are complex protein biocatalysts that accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed by them. Due to the body's constant metabolic needs, the absence of enzymes would make life unsustainable, as reactions would occur too slowly without these molecules. Basics of Enzymes to determine the state of liver metabolic activity, homeostasis, bile metabolism, and protein synthesis capacity. The standard hepatic panel includes the levels of total protein, bilirubin, albumin, ALT, AST, AST/ALT ratio, and alkaline phosphatase (ALP).

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Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

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Introduction

Hepatobiliary anatomy

  • Liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver
    • Largest solid organ in the human body
    • Found in the RUQ of the abdomen
    • Its functions are detoxification, metabolism ( carbohydrates Carbohydrates Carbohydrates are one of the 3 macronutrients, along with fats and proteins, serving as a source of energy to the body. These biomolecules store energy in the form of glycogen and starch, and play a role in defining the cellular structure (e.g., cellulose). Basics of Carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids Lipids Lipids are a diverse group of hydrophobic organic molecules, which include fats, oils, sterols, and waxes. Fatty Acids and Lipids), nutrient storage, and protein production.
  • Gallbladder Gallbladder The gallbladder is a pear-shaped sac, located directly beneath the liver, that sits on top of the superior part of the duodenum. The primary functions of the gallbladder include concentrating and storing up to 50 mL of bile. Gallbladder and Biliary Tract and biliary tract Biliary tract Bile is secreted by hepatocytes into thin channels called canaliculi. These canaliculi lead into slightly larger interlobular bile ductules, which are part of the portal triads at the "corners" of hepatic lobules. The bile leaves the liver via the right and left hepatic ducts, which join together to form the common hepatic duct. Gallbladder and Biliary Tract:
    • Pear-shaped sac
    • Functions as the storage organ for bile and the network of ducts that transport the bile from the gallbladder to the bowel for excretion
Liver anterior view

Image by Lecturio. License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Hepatobiliary physiology

  • The main functions of the liver are:
    • Bile production
      • Helps excrete metabolic waste
      • Aids AIDS Chronic HIV infection and depletion of CD4 cells eventually results in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which can be diagnosed by the presence of certain opportunistic diseases called AIDS-defining conditions. These conditions include a wide spectrum of bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections as well as several malignancies and generalized conditions. HIV Infection and AIDS in the absorption Absorption Absorption involves the uptake of nutrient molecules and their transfer from the lumen of the GI tract across the enterocytes and into the interstitial space, where they can be taken up in the venous or lymphatic circulation. Digestion and Absorption and digestion Digestion Digestion refers to the process of the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into smaller particles, which can then be absorbed and utilized by the body. Digestion and Absorption of lipids Lipids Lipids are a diverse group of hydrophobic organic molecules, which include fats, oils, sterols, and waxes. Fatty Acids and Lipids 
    • Fat-soluble vitamin Fat-soluble Vitamin Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed and stored in adipose tissue (fat) and the liver. These vitamins can be released from storage and used when necessary. The 4 important fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. Fat-soluble Vitamins and their Deficiencies storage and/or metabolism
    • Drug metabolism
    • Bilirubin metabolism
      • Heme → biliverdin → unconjugated bilirubin
      • The liver conjugates bilirubin, which is then secreted into the bile.
    • Immunological function: clearance of microorganisms and endotoxins from the portal blood
    • Protein synthesis
  • Various hepatic proteins can be evaluated individually, but the standard hepatic function panel assesses the following:
    • Total protein
    • Bilirubin
    • Albumin
    • ALT
    • AST
    • AST/ALT ratio
    • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
  • Hepatic proteins can be grouped by the type of derangement of liver function they measure:
    • Parameters of liver damage: ALT, AST, AST/ALT ratio, and glutamate dehydrogenase (GLDH)
    • Parameters of biliary disease: gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGTP), ALP, and bilirubin 
    • Parameters of hepatic synthesis: albumin, cholinesterase, PT
Table: Enzyme patterns in liver disease
Liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver disease ALT and AST ALP Bilirubin GGTP PT
Acute liver damage (e.g., viral hepatitis)
↑↑↑
> 10 times normal level
Usually ALT > AST
Normal or ↑ Normal or ↑
Normal
Chronic liver damage (e.g., fatty liver)
↑↑
Normal or ↑ Normal or ↑
Normal
Alcoholic liver disease Alcoholic Liver Disease Alcoholic liver disease is a spectrum of disorders ranging from fatty liver to cirrhosis secondary to chronic alcohol abuse. Excessive and prolonged consumption of alcohol results in impairment of the lipolysis pathway, causing inflammatory changes within the hepatocytes. Patients typically present during the hepatitis stage with jaundice, fever, and abdominal pain. Alcoholic Liver Disease (ALD)

AST/ALT > 2
Normal or ↑ Normal or ↑
↑↑
Normal
Cholestasis
↑↑
> 4 times
↑↑
↑↑
Normal
Cirrhosis

AST > ALT
Normal or ↑ ↑ In advanced stages
Prolonged
Liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver cancer
Normal or ↑
↑↑
Normal or ↑ Normal or ↑ Prolonged
Autoimmune hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a rare form of chronic liver disease in which the immune system attacks the liver causing inflammation. It predominantly affects women. Clinical presentation ranges from asymptomatic cases to patients that present with symptoms of acute liver failure (jaundice, right upper quadrant pain). Autoimmune Hepatitis
↑↑
ALT > AST
Normal or ↑
Normal
Ischemic injury/ shock Shock Shock is a life-threatening condition associated with impaired circulation that results in tissue hypoxia. The different types of shock are based on the underlying cause: distributive (↑ cardiac output (CO), ↓ systemic vascular resistance (SVR)), cardiogenic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), hypovolemic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), obstructive (↓ CO), and mixed. Types of Shock liver
↑↑↑
Normal or ↑
Prolonged

Parameters of Liver Damage

When hepatocytes are damaged, they release their enzymes Enzymes Enzymes are complex protein biocatalysts that accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed by them. Due to the body's constant metabolic needs, the absence of enzymes would make life unsustainable, as reactions would occur too slowly without these molecules. Basics of Enzymes into the circulation. The magnitude of enzyme level derangement reflects the severity of liver damage.

Table: Parameters of liver damage
Parameter Normal range Function Causes of elevation
ALT 8–20 U/L
  • Produced in liver
  • Specific marker of hepatic injury
  • Involved in amino acid Amino acid Amino acids (AAs) are composed of a central carbon atom attached to a carboxyl group, an amino group, a hydrogen atom, and a side chain (R group). Basics of Amino Acids metabolism, catalyzes transfer of an amino group between glutamate and alanine
  • All kinds of liver damage
  • When only AST is altered:
    • Muscle damage
    • MI MI MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction

> 1000 U/L:
  • Drug-induced hepatotoxicity
  • Ischemic hepatitis
  • Acute viral hepatitis
AST 8–20 U/L
  • Involved in amino acid Amino acid Amino acids (AAs) are composed of a central carbon atom attached to a carboxyl group, an amino group, a hydrogen atom, and a side chain (R group). Basics of Amino Acids metabolism, catalyzes transfer of an amino group between glutamate and aspartate
  • Also present in heart, muscle, and kidneys Kidneys The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located retroperitoneally against the posterior wall of the abdomen on either side of the spine. As part of the urinary tract, the kidneys are responsible for blood filtration and excretion of water-soluble waste in the urine. Kidneys
GLDH 1–10 U/L
  • Produced in mitochondria
  • Converts glutamate to α-ketoglutarate, releasing ammonia Ammonia A colorless alkaline gas. It is formed in the body during decomposition of organic materials during a large number of metabolically important reactions. Note that the aqueous form of ammonia is referred to as ammonium hydroxide. Physiology of Acid-Base Balance into the urea cycle Urea Cycle The catabolism of amino acids results in the release of nitrogen in the form of ammonium. This excess nitrogen is transported to the liver and kidneys and eliminated from the body in the form of urea via the urine. The urea cycle (or ornithine cycle) takes place mainly in the liver and comprises the synthesis of urea from ammonium, CO2, aspartate, and bicarbonate. Urea Cycle
  • Elevated when necrosis of hepatocytes is the predominant event
  • Severe hepatitis
  • Toxins
  • Hepatic ischemia
AST/ALT ratio Approximately 0.8 Used to differentiate between causes of hepatocellular damage
  • In most liver diseases, ALT > AST, with a ratio > 1
  • In ALID AST > ALT, with a ratio > 2
  • AST > ALT in non-alcoholic liver disease suggests cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis

Parameters of Biliary Disease

  • Biliary disease: pathology affecting the intra- and extrahepatic bile ducts Extrahepatic bile ducts Passages external to the liver for the conveyance of bile. These include the common bile duct and the common hepatic duct. Gallbladder and Biliary Tract and gallbladder
  • Cholestasis: failure of excretion of conjugated bilirubin to the duodenum
Table: Parameters of biliary disease
Parameter Normal range Function Causes of elevation
GGTP 9–48 U/L
  • Involved in amino acid Amino acid Amino acids (AAs) are composed of a central carbon atom attached to a carboxyl group, an amino group, a hydrogen atom, and a side chain (R group). Basics of Amino Acids transport and glutathione metabolism
  • Present also in kidney, pancreas Pancreas The pancreas lies mostly posterior to the stomach and extends across the posterior abdominal wall from the duodenum on the right to the spleen on the left. This organ has both exocrine and endocrine tissue. Pancreas, and intestine
  • Alcohol use disorder Alcohol use disorder Alcohol is one of the most commonly used addictive substances in the world. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined as pathologic consumption of alcohol leading to impaired daily functioning. Acute alcohol intoxication presents with impairment in speech and motor functions and can be managed in most cases with supportive care. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
  • Cholestasis
ALP 44–147 IU/L Responsible for dephosphorylating various compounds
  • 3rd trimester of pregnancy Pregnancy Pregnancy is the time period between fertilization of an oocyte and delivery of a fetus approximately 9 months later. The 1st sign of pregnancy is typically a missed menstrual period, after which, pregnancy should be confirmed clinically based on a positive β-HCG test (typically a qualitative urine test) and pelvic ultrasound. Pregnancy: Diagnosis, Maternal Physiology, and Routine Care
  • Cholestasis
  • Bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Structure of Bones disease:
    • Skeletal metastases
    • Osteomalacia Osteomalacia Rickets and osteomalacia are disorders of decreased bone mineralization. Osteomalacia affects the sites of bone turnover in children and adults. Although most cases are due to vitamin D deficiency, other genetic and nutritional disorders as well as medications can cause these disorders. Osteomalacia can present with bone pain, difficulty with ambulation and pathologic fractures. Osteomalacia and Rickets
    • Fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures healing
Bilirubin Total 0.1–1 mg/dL Yellow pigment made during the breakdown of RBCs via heme catabolism Elevated by various diseases of the liver, gallbladder, biliary tree Biliary tree The bile ducts and the gallbladder. Gallbladder and Biliary Tract, or RBCs (e.g., hemolysis)
Direct 0.0–0.3 mg/dL Conjugated with glucuronic acid, water-soluble Usually associated with causes of obstructive cholestasis
Indirect Usually measured as the difference between total and direct bilirubin Unconjugated with glucuronic acid, lipid-soluble
  • Inherited syndromes of defective bilirubin conjugation
  • Hemolysis of RBCs

Parameters of Hepatic Synthesis

  • The liver is responsible for the production of many proteins and enzymes Enzymes Enzymes are complex protein biocatalysts that accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed by them. Due to the body's constant metabolic needs, the absence of enzymes would make life unsustainable, as reactions would occur too slowly without these molecules. Basics of Enzymes.
  • Hepatocellular damage can reduce the capacity of synthesis.
Table: Parameters of hepatic synthesis
Parameter Normal range Function Causes of elevation
Albumin 3.5–5.5 g/dL
  • Main serum protein
  • Determines intravascular oncotic pressure
  • Intravascular transport of substances (drugs, hormones Hormones Hormones are messenger molecules that are synthesized in one part of the body and move through the bloodstream to exert specific regulatory effects on another part of the body. Hormones play critical roles in coordinating cellular activities throughout the body in response to the constant changes in both the internal and external environments. Hormones: Overview, bilirubin)
  • Elevated in dehydration Dehydration Volume status is a balance between water and solutes, the majority of which is Na. Volume depletion refers to a loss of both water and Na, whereas dehydration refers only to a loss of water. Dehydration is primarily caused by decreased water intake and presents with increased thirst and can progress to altered mental status and low blood pressure if severe. Volume Depletion and Dehydration
  • Decreased in advanced liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis) or urinary loss of proteins (e.g., nephrotic syndrome Nephrotic syndrome Nephrotic syndrome is characterized by severe proteinuria, hypoalbuminemia, and peripheral edema. In contrast, the nephritic syndromes present with hematuria, variable loss of renal function, and hypertension, although there is sometimes overlap of > 1 glomerular disease in the same individual. Nephrotic Syndrome)
Cholinesterase 8–18 U/mL
  • Breaks down choline esters (important for the metabolism of many drugs, including anesthetics)
  • Produced only by the liver
  • Elevated in Alzheimer disease Alzheimer disease As the most common cause of dementia, Alzheimer disease affects not only many individuals but also their families. Alzheimer disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes brain atrophy and presents with a decline in memory, cognition, and social skills. Alzheimer Disease, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease Coronary heart disease Coronary heart disease (CHD), or ischemic heart disease, describes a situation in which an inadequate supply of blood to the myocardium exists due to a stenosis of the coronary arteries, typically from atherosclerosis. Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)
  • Decreased in advanced liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis) and malnutrition Malnutrition Malnutrition is a clinical state caused by an imbalance or deficiency of calories and/or micronutrients and macronutrients. The 2 main manifestations of acute severe malnutrition are marasmus (total caloric insufficiency) and kwashiorkor (protein malnutrition with characteristic edema). Malnutrition in children in resource-limited countries
  • Inhibited by organophosphate pesticide poisoning
PT 9.5–13.5 seconds
  • Measures the liver’s ability to synthesize fibrinogen and factors II, VII, IX, and X
  • Assesses efficiency of extrinsic and common pathways of the coagulation cascade
    Prolonged in:
  • Vitamin K deficiency
  • Liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis), which impairs coagulation factor production
  • Overdose of warfarin
  • DIC DIC Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a condition characterized by systemic bodywide activation of the coagulation cascade. This cascade results in both widespread microvascular thrombi contributing to multiple organ dysfunction and consumption of clotting factors and platelets, leading to hemorrhage. Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation
  • Inherited coagulation factor deficiency (e.g., hemophilia Hemophilia The hemophilias are a group of inherited, or sometimes acquired, disorders of secondary hemostasis due to deficiency of specific clotting factors. Hemophilia A is a deficiency of factor VIII, hemophilia B a deficiency of factor IX, and hemophilia C a deficiency of factor XI. Patients present with bleeding events that may be spontaneous or associated with minor or major trauma. Hemophilia)

Clinical Relevance

Hepatic disorders

  • Neoplasms:
    • Benign liver tumors Benign Liver Tumors The most common benign liver tumors include hepatic hemangiomas, focal nodular hyperplasia, and hepatic adenomas. These tumors are mostly asymptomatic and/or found incidentally on abdominal imaging. Benign Liver Tumors: cavernous hemangiomas, hepatocellular adenomas, and focal nodular hyperplasia (FNH)
    • Liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver cancer: hepatocellular carcinoma Hepatocellular carcinoma Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) typically arises in a chronically diseased or cirrhotic liver and is the most common primary liver cancer. Diagnosis may include ultrasound, CT, MRI, biopsy (if inconclusive imaging), and/or biomarkers. Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) and Liver Metastases ( HCC HCC Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) typically arises in a chronically diseased or cirrhotic liver and is the most common primary liver cancer. Diagnosis may include ultrasound, CT, MRI, biopsy (if inconclusive imaging), and/or biomarkers. Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) and Liver Metastases); intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma; hepatoblastoma; angiosarcoma; hemangioendothelioma; liver metastases from GI, breast, and lung malignancies; and rare hepatic tumors (carcinosarcomas, teratomas, yolk sac tumors, carcinoid tumors Carcinoid tumors Carcinoid tumors are small, well-differentiated, slow-growing neuroendocrine tumors (NET). Carcinoid syndrome describes the signs and symptoms associated with unregulated vasoactive hormone production by neuroendocrine tumors. Carcinoid tumors are most commonly found in the GI and bronchopulmonary tracts. Carcinoid Tumors and Syndrome, and lymphomas)
  • Infections:
    • Pyogenic liver abscess Pyogenic liver abscess A pyogenic liver abscess is a polymicrobial infection arising from contiguous or hematogenous spread. Pyogenic liver abscess is the most common type of visceral abscess. Patients may present with a triad of fever, malaise, and RUQ pain. Pyogenic Liver Abscess: an accumulation of pus that forms in the liver due to a bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection. Patients with a pyogenic liver abscess must undergo abscess drainage and be placed on systemic antibiotics.
    • Viral hepatitis: primarily caused by hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E, resulting in targeted inflammation Inflammation Inflammation is a complex set of responses to infection and injury involving leukocytes as the principal cellular mediators in the body's defense against pathogenic organisms. Inflammation is also seen as a response to tissue injury in the process of wound healing. The 5 cardinal signs of inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Inflammation of the liver. Patients develop nonspecific symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and abdominal pain Pain Pain has accompanied humans since they first existed, first lamented as the curse of existence and later understood as an adaptive mechanism that ensures survival. Pain is the most common symptomatic complaint and the main reason why people seek medical care. Physiology of Pain.
  • Inflammatory disorders:
    • Alcoholic liver disease Alcoholic Liver Disease Alcoholic liver disease is a spectrum of disorders ranging from fatty liver to cirrhosis secondary to chronic alcohol abuse. Excessive and prolonged consumption of alcohol results in impairment of the lipolysis pathway, causing inflammatory changes within the hepatocytes. Patients typically present during the hepatitis stage with jaundice, fever, and abdominal pain. Alcoholic Liver Disease: progressive disease characterized by inflammation Inflammation Inflammation is a complex set of responses to infection and injury involving leukocytes as the principal cellular mediators in the body's defense against pathogenic organisms. Inflammation is also seen as a response to tissue injury in the process of wound healing. The 5 cardinal signs of inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Inflammation and damage of the liver due to long-term excessive alcohol abuse. Patients classically present with increased liver enzymes Enzymes Enzymes are complex protein biocatalysts that accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed by them. Due to the body's constant metabolic needs, the absence of enzymes would make life unsustainable, as reactions would occur too slowly without these molecules. Basics of Enzymes, with AST being elevated more than ALT.
    • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): characterized by excessive fat accumulation in the liver without excessive alcohol intake. The severity of the condition ranges from asymptomatic to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) characterized by progressive liver damage.
    • Autoimmune hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a rare form of chronic liver disease in which the immune system attacks the liver causing inflammation. It predominantly affects women. Clinical presentation ranges from asymptomatic cases to patients that present with symptoms of acute liver failure (jaundice, right upper quadrant pain). Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH): progressive inflammatory process leading to chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis. Autoimmune hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a rare form of chronic liver disease in which the immune system attacks the liver causing inflammation. It predominantly affects women. Clinical presentation ranges from asymptomatic cases to patients that present with symptoms of acute liver failure (jaundice, right upper quadrant pain). Autoimmune Hepatitis is characterized by the presence of circulating autoantibodies and high serum globulin concentrations. 
    • Fitz-Hugh-Curtis syndrome: characterized by inflammation Inflammation Inflammation is a complex set of responses to infection and injury involving leukocytes as the principal cellular mediators in the body's defense against pathogenic organisms. Inflammation is also seen as a response to tissue injury in the process of wound healing. The 5 cardinal signs of inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Inflammation of the liver capsule that occurs in women as a complication of pelvic inflammatory disease Pelvic inflammatory disease Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is defined as a polymicrobial infection of the upper female reproductive system. The disease can affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and adjacent structures. Pelvic inflammatory disease is closely linked with sexually transmitted diseases, most commonly caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Gardnerella vaginalis. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
  • Hereditary
    • Hemochromatosis: a genetic autosomal recessive Autosomal recessive Autosomal inheritance, both dominant and recessive, refers to the transmission of genes from the 22 autosomal chromosomes. Autosomal recessive diseases are only expressed when 2 copies of the recessive allele are inherited. Autosomal Recessive and Autosomal Dominant Inheritancedisorder due to a mutation Mutation Genetic mutations are errors in DNA that can cause protein misfolding and dysfunction. There are various types of mutations, including chromosomal, point, frameshift, and expansion mutations. Types of Mutations of the HFE gene, resulting in increased intestinal iron absorption Absorption Absorption involves the uptake of nutrient molecules and their transfer from the lumen of the GI tract across the enterocytes and into the interstitial space, where they can be taken up in the venous or lymphatic circulation. Digestion and Absorption. Patients present with hepatomegaly, cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis, bronzed skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Structure and Function of the Skin, diabetes, arthralgia, and cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy refers to a group of myocardial diseases associated with structural changes of the heart muscles (myocardium) and impaired systolic and/or diastolic function in the absence of other heart disorders (coronary artery disease, hypertension, valvular disease, and congenital heart disease). Overview of Cardiomyopathies (CM).
    • Wilson disease: an autosomal recessive Autosomal recessive Autosomal inheritance, both dominant and recessive, refers to the transmission of genes from the 22 autosomal chromosomes. Autosomal recessive diseases are only expressed when 2 copies of the recessive allele are inherited. Autosomal Recessive and Autosomal Dominant Inheritancemetabolic disorder in which copper excretion is impaired, leading to copper accumulation in the liver.
    • Dubin-Johnson syndrome: a rare autosomal recessive Autosomal recessive Autosomal inheritance, both dominant and recessive, refers to the transmission of genes from the 22 autosomal chromosomes. Autosomal recessive diseases are only expressed when 2 copies of the recessive allele are inherited. Autosomal Recessive and Autosomal Dominant Inheritancedisorder that involves elevated levels of conjugated bilirubin that lead to a melanin-like pigment depositing in the liver, which causes what’s known as “black liver.” Clinically, Dubin-Johnson syndrome presents with jaundice Jaundice Jaundice is the abnormal yellowing of the skin and/or sclera caused by the accumulation of bilirubin. Hyperbilirubinemia is caused by either an increase in bilirubin production or a decrease in the hepatic uptake, conjugation, or excretion of bilirubin. Jaundice due to elevated levels of conjugated bilirubin.
  • Miscellaneous:
    • Portal hypertension Portal hypertension Portal hypertension is increased pressure in the portal venous system. This increased pressure can lead to splanchnic vasodilation, collateral blood flow through portosystemic anastomoses, and increased hydrostatic pressure. There are a number of etiologies, including cirrhosis, right-sided congestive heart failure, schistosomiasis, portal vein thrombosis, hepatitis, and Budd-Chiari syndrome. Portal Hypertension: due to elevated pressure in the portal vein Portal vein A short thick vein formed by union of the superior mesenteric vein and the splenic vein. Liver. Portal hypertension Portal hypertension Portal hypertension is increased pressure in the portal venous system. This increased pressure can lead to splanchnic vasodilation, collateral blood flow through portosystemic anastomoses, and increased hydrostatic pressure. There are a number of etiologies, including cirrhosis, right-sided congestive heart failure, schistosomiasis, portal vein thrombosis, hepatitis, and Budd-Chiari syndrome. Portal Hypertension is most commonly caused by cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis, schistosomiasis Schistosomiasis Schistosomiasis is an infection caused by Schistosoma, a trematode. Schistosomiasis occurs in developing countries with poor sanitation. Freshwater snails are the intermediate host and are transmitted to humans through skin contact with contaminated fresh water. The clinical presentation occurs as a result of the host's immune response to antigens from the eggs. Schistosoma/Schistosomiasis, portal vein Portal vein A short thick vein formed by union of the superior mesenteric vein and the splenic vein. Liver thrombosis, or other hepatic vascular abnormalities. The condition is rarely associated with pulmonary hypertension Pulmonary Hypertension Pulmonary hypertension (PH) or pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is characterized by elevated pulmonary arterial pressure, which can lead to chronic progressive right heart failure. Pulmonary hypertension is grouped into 5 categories based on etiology, which include primary PAH, and PH due to cardiac disease, lung or hypoxic disease, chronic thromboembolic disease, and multifactorial or unclear etiologies. Pulmonary Hypertension (PH).
    • Cirrhosis: a condition caused by chronic damage to the liver. Cirrhosis can be the consequence of a multitude of chronic insults to the liver. Alcoholic liver disease Alcoholic Liver Disease Alcoholic liver disease is a spectrum of disorders ranging from fatty liver to cirrhosis secondary to chronic alcohol abuse. Excessive and prolonged consumption of alcohol results in impairment of the lipolysis pathway, causing inflammatory changes within the hepatocytes. Patients typically present during the hepatitis stage with jaundice, fever, and abdominal pain. Alcoholic Liver Disease is a major cause. Cirrhosis is characterized by hepatic parenchymal necrosis, which ultimately leads to fibrosis and liver insufficiency.
    • Budd-Chiari syndrome Budd-Chiari syndrome Budd-Chiari syndrome is a condition resulting from the interruption of the normal outflow of blood from the liver. The primary type arises from a venous process (affecting the hepatic veins or inferior vena cava) such as thrombosis, but can also be from a lesion compressing or invading the veins (secondary type). The patient typically presents with hepatomegaly, ascites, and abdominal discomfort. Budd-Chiari Syndrome: a rare condition resulting from hepatic vein obstruction that leads to hepatomegaly, ascites Ascites Ascites is the pathologic accumulation of fluid within the peritoneal cavity that occurs due to an osmotic and/or hydrostatic pressure imbalance secondary to portal hypertension (cirrhosis, heart failure) or non-portal hypertension (hypoalbuminemia, malignancy, infection). Ascites, and abdominal discomfort.

Biliary disorders

  • Cholelithiasis Cholelithiasis Cholelithiasis (gallstones) is the presence of stones in the gallbladder. Most gallstones are cholesterol stones, while the rest are composed of bilirubin (pigment stones) and other mixed components. Patients are commonly asymptomatic but may present with biliary colic (intermittent pain in the right upper quadrant). Cholelithiasis: presence of gallstones in the gallbladder.
  • Cholecystitis Cholecystitis Cholecystitis is the inflammation of the gallbladder (GB) usually caused by the obstruction of the cystic duct (acute cholecystitis). Mechanical irritation by gallstones can also produce chronic GB inflammation. Cholecystitis is one of the most common complications of cholelithiasis but inflammation without gallstones can occur in a minority of patients. Cholecystitis: a condition characterized by inflammation Inflammation Inflammation is a complex set of responses to infection and injury involving leukocytes as the principal cellular mediators in the body's defense against pathogenic organisms. Inflammation is also seen as a response to tissue injury in the process of wound healing. The 5 cardinal signs of inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Inflammation of the gallbladder, usually due to bacterial infection that leads to obstruction of the cystic duct. Patients will present with severe RUQ pain Pain Pain has accompanied humans since they first existed, first lamented as the curse of existence and later understood as an adaptive mechanism that ensures survival. Pain is the most common symptomatic complaint and the main reason why people seek medical care. Physiology of Pain.
  • Cholangitis: an infection of the biliary tract Biliary tract Bile is secreted by hepatocytes into thin channels called canaliculi. These canaliculi lead into slightly larger interlobular bile ductules, which are part of the portal triads at the "corners" of hepatic lobules. The bile leaves the liver via the right and left hepatic ducts, which join together to form the common hepatic duct. Gallbladder and Biliary Tract, usually due to the ascending flow Flow Blood flows through the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins in a closed, continuous circuit. Flow is the movement of volume per unit of time. Flow is affected by the pressure gradient and the resistance fluid encounters between 2 points. Vascular resistance is the opposition to flow, which is caused primarily by blood friction against vessel walls. Vascular Resistance, Flow, and Mean Arterial Pressure of bacteria Bacteria Bacteria are prokaryotic single-celled microorganisms that are metabolically active and divide by binary fission. Some of these organisms play a significant role in the pathogenesis of diseases. Bacteriology: Overview facilitated by bile stasis. Cholangitis can lead to strictures, further bile stasis, and recurrent choledocholithiasis.
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis ( PBC PBC Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a chronic disease resulting in autoimmune destruction of the intrahepatic bile ducts. The typical presentation is that of a middle-aged woman with pruritus, fatigue, and right upper quadrant abdominal pain. Elevated liver enzymes and antimitochondrial antibodies (AMAs) establish the diagnosis. Primary Biliary Cholangitis): otherwise known as primary biliary cholangitis Primary Biliary Cholangitis Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a chronic disease resulting in autoimmune destruction of the intrahepatic bile ducts. The typical presentation is that of a middle-aged woman with pruritus, fatigue, and right upper quadrant abdominal pain. Elevated liver enzymes and antimitochondrial antibodies (AMAs) establish the diagnosis. Primary Biliary Cholangitis, PBC PBC Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a chronic disease resulting in autoimmune destruction of the intrahepatic bile ducts. The typical presentation is that of a middle-aged woman with pruritus, fatigue, and right upper quadrant abdominal pain. Elevated liver enzymes and antimitochondrial antibodies (AMAs) establish the diagnosis. Primary Biliary Cholangitis is a chronic progressive autoimmune disease characterized by the destruction of intrahepatic bile ducts, leading to cholestasis, cirrhosis Cirrhosis Cirrhosis is a late stage of hepatic parenchymal necrosis and scarring (fibrosis) most commonly due to hepatitis C infection and alcoholic liver disease. Patients may present with jaundice, ascites, and hepatosplenomegaly. Cirrhosis can also cause complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatorenal syndrome. Cirrhosis, and liver failure.
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is an inflammatory disease that causes fibrosis and strictures of the bile ducts. The exact etiology is unknown, but there is a strong association with IBD. Patients typically present with an insidious onset of fatigue, pruritus, and jaundice, which can progress to cirrhosis and complications related to biliary obstruction. Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis ( PSC PSC Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is an inflammatory disease that causes fibrosis and strictures of the bile ducts. The exact etiology is unknown, but there is a strong association with IBD. Patients typically present with an insidious onset of fatigue, pruritus, and jaundice, which can progress to cirrhosis and complications related to biliary obstruction. Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis): a progressive chronic inflammation Inflammation Inflammation is a complex set of responses to infection and injury involving leukocytes as the principal cellular mediators in the body's defense against pathogenic organisms. Inflammation is also seen as a response to tissue injury in the process of wound healing. The 5 cardinal signs of inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Inflammation of the bile ducts leading to fibrosis and strictures with no known cause. Primary sclerosing cholangitis Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is an inflammatory disease that causes fibrosis and strictures of the bile ducts. The exact etiology is unknown, but there is a strong association with IBD. Patients typically present with an insidious onset of fatigue, pruritus, and jaundice, which can progress to cirrhosis and complications related to biliary obstruction. Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis is significantly associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

References

  1. Giannini, EG, Testa, R, & Savarino V. (2005). Liver enzyme alteration: A guide for clinicians. CMAJ, 172(3),367–79. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15684121/
  2. Hall, P, & Cash, J. (2012). What is the real function of the liver “function” tests? The Ulster Medical Journal, 81(1),30–36. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23536736/
  3. Hoekstra, LT, et al. (2013). Physiological and biochemical basis of clinical liver function tests: A review. Annals of Surgery,  257(1),27–36. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22836216/
  4. Kalra, A, Yetiskul, E., Wehrle, CJ, et al. Physiology, liver. [Updated 2020 May 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan–.
  5. Lindenmeyer, CC. (2019). Laboratory tests of the liver and gallbladder. MDS Manual. Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, USA. Retrieved May 27, 2021 from: https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/hepatic-and-biliary-disorders

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