High gamma glutamyl transferase levels are indicators of internal organ problems.
It is likely that on more than one occasion they have done some other blood test, either to check the values of elements such as cholesterol, triglycerides or blood sugar or before the presentation of some type of symptoms that make think about the existence of a specific disease (in which case a more specific analysis is carried out).
Thanks to them we can get to detect very diverse pathologies, observing for example altered levels of lipids, leukocytes or even some enzymes. An example of this occurs when we have high gamma glutamyl transferase or GGT, an indicator of the existence of possible damage to organs such as the liver.
Throughout this article we are going to make a brief dissertation about what it is and what having high GGT can imply, as well as some conditions that can cause it.
What is the GGT and when do we start having it high?
It receives the name of gamma glutamyl transferase or GGT an important enzyme present in various organs of the human body, with a special preponderance in the liver (this being the organ in which it is found in greater proportion), the heart and the gallbladder, but it is also present in others such as the kidneys or the brain.
This enzyme’s main function is to metabolize the main antioxidant that our body manufactures, glutathione, as well as to transfer it to other amino acids. In this way, it contributes, among other things, to maintaining cell health and homeostasis and strengthening the immune system. As we have said, it is part of various organs, being able to find certain levels of this enzyme in the blood.
In general, between 0 and 30 or between 7 and 50 units per liter of blood are considered normal values. Above these values, it is considered that this enzyme is at a high level, something that is indicating the presence of damage in some of the aforementioned organs, basically in the first three and the most likely being the liver. The increase is usually due to a leakage of the enzyme through damage or injury to these organs.
How are their levels evaluated and valued?
Although it is possible that this does not seem to generate symptoms at first, it is usual that what generates high levels of GGT produces different alterations.
These can vary greatly based on the causes, but the most common are the presence of jaundice or yellowing of the eyes and skin, weakness, changes in color of urine and feces (the former usually darkens and the latter clear), sudden lowering of the appetite, itching of the skin, gastrointestinal discomfort and pain or nausea and vomiting, being indicators of the presence of damage that make it advisable to carry out the pertinent analysis.
The assessment of GGT levels will be done through a blood test, usually after a period of time without eating or drinking. It is no more dangerous than other blood tests, and once in possession of the sample the test is relatively quick to do.
However, despite this, it should be noted that having a high GGT does not have a single identifiable cause, and its levels do not serve as a precise indicator of where the damage may be. For this reason, it is often necessary to perform complementary analyzes that assess other enzymes.
Possible causes of high GGT
As we have just mentioned, there are multiple reasons that can cause us to have high GGT, often requiring the analysis of the levels of other substances to determine the specific cause of said alteration. Among the most common causes of its elevation above normal, we can highlight the following.
The different types of hepatitis, which are inflammations of the liver which can come from causes as varied as infection by a virus or food poisoning, have also been associated with the presence of alterations that facilitate GGT to leak into the blood, generating an increase in its levels.
2. Alcoholism and alcoholic cirrhosis
Excessive alcohol consumption and its consequences on the liver are one of the possible causes that can cause us to have a high GGT, due to the existence of lesions through which the enzyme enters the bloodstream. An example is found in alcoholic liver cirrhosis, in which the liver has degenerated in such a way that it presents a large amount of scarring and a greatly diminished functioning of the organ.
3. Diabetes mellitus
Another condition that can cause an elevation in GGT levels is diabetes mellitus, regardless of whether it is insulin-dependent or not. The aforementioned increase usually occurs mainly in those people who do not follow the treatment or medical recommendations, being common in these cases that liver lesions may appear. Fortunately, good glycemic control keeps GGT from rising.
4. Liver cysts and tumors
One reason that can also cause a high level of GGT in the blood is the presence of liver lesions derived from the damage caused by cysts and tumors, either because we are facing a tumor that appears in the organ or because despite being in another site it generates a pressure or compression in / of it.
5. Drug consumption
Not always the elevation of GGT is due to a disease, but it can also be derived from the effects of the consumption of certain drugs or substances. These may include some antibiotics or drugs to treat epilepsy. Another type of drug that can cause a high GGT is oral contraceptives. In addition, substances such as alcohol or phenobarbital (a barbiturate, anxiolytic, and sedative) also cause an elevation in GGT.
6. Blockage of the vesicular channels or blood hypoperfusion
In addition to the above, there are other diseases and injuries that can cause the emission of GGT in the blood to be excessive, and the causes of this can be found in problems in the communication of the gallbladder with the liver or the absence of the arrival of enough blood to the area. It can also stem from internal bleeding.
7. Heart failure
Especially frequent in the elderly population, the presence of heart problems such as heart failure also generates an elevation in GGT, in this case not so much derived from the liver but from the main organ of the cardiovascular system.
- Chernecky, CC & Berger, BJ (2013). Gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase (GGTP, gamma-glutamyltransferase) – blood. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders: 559-560.
- American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (2017). Gamma-glutamyl transferase (CGT) blood test. MedlinePlus [Online]. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/article/003458.htm.