Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme that is concentrated in the hepatocytes. When the liver is injured or affected by disease, the enzyme is released into the bloodstream. When jaundice occurs, for example, elevated ALT levels can distinguish a liver injury or disease instead of red blood cell hemolysis.
The test is performed on a patient by collecting 7-10 mL of blood in a red-top tube, then sending it to a lab for analysis. If a patient does have liver dysfunction, then the clinician should note that bleeding times may be longer.
Significantly elevated ALT levels may indicate hepatits, hepatitis necrosis or hepatits ischemia. Moderately increased levels may indicate cirrhosis, cholestatis, a hepatic tumor, a hepatotoxic drug, obstructive jaundice, severe burns or trauma to striated muscle. Drugs that may elevate ALT levels include acetaminophens, clofibrate, codeine, salicylates, tetracyclines among many others.
ALT levels may also increase to a lesser extent due to myositis, acute pancreatitis, myocardial infarction, mononucleosis or shock.
Summarized from the following:
Pagana, K.D., Pagana, T.J. Mostby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 3rd ed. Mosby Elsvier, 2006, pp. 40-42.
Lee RD, Nieman DC. Nutritional Assessment. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.