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A Paradigm Shift in the Outpatient Approach to Liver Function Tests

Viplove Senadhi, DO
Volume: 104 Issue: 7 July, 2011

Abstract:

The American Gastroenterological Association (2002), Canadian Medical Association (2005), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006) released guidelines to screen patients with mild elevations of liver enzymes for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Mildly elevated liver enzymes were defined as less than five times the upper limit of normal, but above the normal reference range. The rationale for this recommendation was based on many factors including cost effectiveness, lab variation, and ultimately, for better patient care.


Chronic hepatitis B and C have values of transaminases that fluctuate between normal and mildly abnormal. Screening patients with even mild elevations of transaminases allows many chronic hepatitis patients to be diagnosed early in the course of their disease. Diagnosing these patients early in their disease course leads to better treatment response, decreased progression to cirrhosis, lower viral loads leading to decreased incidence of extrahepatic manifestations, prevention of hepatocellular carcinoma, and decreased likelihood of liver transplantation.


There are organizations which recommend discontinuing hepatotoxic medications such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and reevaluating the patient in three months. However, this recommendation misses a number of hepatitis patients for the reasons aforementioned. The obesity epidemic has clouded the diagnosis of hepatitis B/C as patients that have obesity, diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome are not being screened due the presumptive diagnosis of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.


Not screening patients in the setting of obesity is not cost-effective and also leads to increased morbidity, as we will discuss in this manuscript. Additionally, it has been proven in the literature that it is more cost-effective to screen for hepatitis B/C in high-prevalence areas, than to reassess the patient months later, and potentially miss a diagnosis of hepatitis B/C. The overall goal of this study is to increase screening awareness of patients with mild transaminitis elevations through publication in order to diagnose patients with hepatitis B and C prior to the development of chronic liver disease.

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