AST (SGOT) and ALT (SGPT) are sensitive indicators of liver damage or injury from different types of diseases. But it must be emphasized that higher-than-normal levels of these liver enzymes should not be automatically equated with liver disease. They may mean liver problems or they may not. For example, elevations of these enzymes can occur with muscle damage. The interpretation of elevated AST and ALT levels depends upon the entire clinical evaluation of an individual, and so it is best done by physicians experienced in evaluating liver disease and muscle disease.
Moreover, the precise levels of these enzymes do not correlate well with the extent of liver damage or the prognosis (outlook). Thus, the exact levels of AST (SGOT) and ALT (SGPT) cannot be used to determine the degree of liver disease or predict the future. For example, individuals with acute viral hepatitis A may develop very high AST and ALT levels (sometimes in the thousands of units/liter range). But most people with acute viral hepatitis A recover fully without residual liver disease. Conversely, people with chronic hepatitis C infection typically have only a little elevation in their AST and ALT levels while having substantial liver injury and even advanced scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).
It is important to clarify that ALT and AST levels do not reflect the function of the liver, even though they commonly are referred to as liver function tests or LFTs. They only are used to detect inflammation due to injury or damage to the liver from any source. Even in conditions when AST and ALT are very elevated, the liver may function properly.
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Archived: March 20, 2014
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