Elevated Liver Enzymes: Emergency Department-Focused Management

Eric Sulava, Samuel Bergin, Brit Long, Alex Koyfman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Liver function test (LFT) abnormalities are a common problem faced by emergency physicians. This has become more common with the introduction of laboratory panels and automated routine laboratory testing. Fortunately, not all patients with irregularities in liver enzymes possess underlying pathology. This emergency medicine focused review provides a discussion of the various biochemical tests, their underlying biological basis, and an algorithmic approach to the interpretation of abnormalities. Objective: Our aim was to provide emergency physicians with an overview of the evaluation and management of patients with elevated LFTs. Discussion: The liver is a complex organ with multiple roles. The key biochemical markers of hepatic function can be organized into the groupings of hepatocellular, cholestatic, or functioning liver, based on underlying enzymatic roles. Pathologic alterations to these markers can be algorithmically assessed by separating disease processes of these groupings, followed by assessment of the magnitude of enzymatic elevation. This review conducts an in-depth evaluation of the differential diagnosis and emergency department-centered clinical response of elevated LFTs based on subcategories of mild, moderate, and severe transaminase elevation. Conclusions: By understanding the biochemical basis of each LFT, it is possible to correlate laboratory findings to a patient's clinical presentation. An algorithmic approach can be taken to help narrow the spectrum of a differential diagnosis. This may assist providers in ensuring appropriate management and evaluation of the patient with elevated LFTs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - Jul 11 2016


  • Alanine aminotransferase
  • Albumin
  • Alkaline phosphatase
  • Aspartate aminotransferase
  • Hepatitis
  • Liver function test
  • Prothrombin time
  • γ-glutamyl transpeptidase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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