Visit Know Pathology Know Healthcare

Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme found mostly in the liver. Smaller amounts are also found in the kidneys, heart and muscles. The ALT test measures the amount of the enzyme in your blood. Normally, ALT levels are low but when the liver cells are damaged they release ALT into the bloodstream. This usually occurs before more obvious symptoms of liver damage can be seen. ALT is typically measured as part of a group of tests that reflect the condition of the liver known as Liver Function Tests (LFTs). These are all performed on the same blood sample and they give information about how your liver is working.

What is being tested?

Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme found mostly in the liver; smaller amounts are also found in the kidneys, heart and muscles. Under normal conditions, ALT levels in the blood are low. When the liver is damaged, ALT is released into the blood stream, usually before more obvious symptoms of liver damage occur, such as jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).

How is it used?

Since plasma albumin is low in many different diseases and disorders, albumin testing is used in a variety of settings to help diagnose disease, to monitor changes in health status with treatment or with disease progression, and as a screen that may serve as an indicator for other kinds of testing.

When is it requested?

A doctor requests a blood albumin test (usually along with several other tests) if a person seems to have symptoms of liver disorder  Albumin is often included in the liver function tests panel of blood tests.
An albumin test may also be requested to test for a kidney disease called nephrotic syndrome.  Your doctor may suspect this condition if you have swelling of the legs or abdomen, or if you have frothy or blood-stained urine.
Doctors may also request blood albumin tests when they want to check a person's nutritional status, for example, when someone has lost a lot of weight or in someone with a gastrointestinal condition such as inflammatory bowel disease. In this situation prealbumin levels tend to fall earlier than albumin levels.

What does the result mean?

Very high levels of ALT (more than 10 times the highest normal level) are usually due to acute (short-term) hepatitis, often due to a virus infection. In acute hepatitis, ALT levels usually stay high for about 1–2 months, but can take as long as 3–6 months to return to normal.

ALT levels are usually not as high in chronic hepatitis, often less than 4 times the highest normal level: in this case, ALT levels often vary between normal and slightly increased, so doctors will order the test frequently to see if there is a pattern. In some liver diseases, especially when the bile ducts are blocked, or when a person has cirrhosis, ALT may be close to normal levels.

Is there anything else I should know?

Certain drugs may raise ALT levels by causing liver damage in a very small percentage of patients taking the drug. This is true of both prescription drugs and some ‘natural’ health products. If your doctor finds that you have a high ALT, tell him or her about all the drugs and health products you are taking.

Common questions

  • What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver.  There are two major forms: acute and chronic.  Acute hepatitis is a fast developing disease and typically makes affected persons feel sick, as if they have the flu, often with loss of appetite and sometimes diarrhoea and vomiting. In many cases, acute hepatitis turns urine brown, and colours the skin and eyes yellow. Most affected individuals eventually recover completely. Chronic (long-term) hepatitis usually causes no symptoms, or causes only loss of energy and tiredness; most people don’t know that they have it. In some people, chronic hepatitis can gradually damage the liver and, after many years, cause it to fail.

  • What other tests are used to evaluate liver disorders?

Other commonly used liver tests include other enzymes found in liver cells, such as aspartate aminotransferase (AST), gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP), as well as bilirubin (a breakdown product from red blood cells removed from the body by the liver and spleen) and albumin (a protein produced by the liver). The doctor will often order these tests together as a group and refer to them as 'liver function tests'.

Last Updated: Thursday, 1st June 2023

Useful Links

Pathology Tests Explained (PTEx) is a not-for profit group managed by a consortium of Australasian medical and scientific organisations.

With up-to-date, evidence-based information about pathology tests it is a leading trusted sources for consumers.

Information is prepared and reviewed by practising pathologists and scientists and is entirely free of any commercial influence.

Our partners in online pathology