The prevalence and predictors of elevated serum aminotransferase activity in the United States in 1999-2002

Am J Gastroenterol. 2006 Jan;101(1):76-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2005.00341.x.


Objectives: The presence of elevated serum aminotransferase activity is a sign of possible underlying liver disease. We aimed to describe the prevalence and associations of elevated serum aminotransferase activity in a recent, nationally representative U.S. survey.

Methods: We described the prevalence and predictors of elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT >43 IU/L) or elevated aspartate aminotransferase (AST >40 IU/L) activity among 6,823 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted between 1999 and 2002. We compared our findings to the results already published based on the NHANES conducted between 1988 and 1994.

Results: In NHANES 1999-2002, the prevalences of elevated ALT, AST, or either ALT or AST were 8.9%, 4.9%, and 9.8%, respectively, in the entire population and 7.3%, 3.6%, and 8.1%, respectively, after excluding participants who tested positive for hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody or reported excessive alcohol consumption. Strong predictors of elevated ALT activity included increasing waist circumference and body mass index, alcohol consumption, male sex, Mexican American ethnicity, decreasing age, and presence of HCV antibody. In NHANES 1988-1994, which employed a different assay methodology, the prevalences of elevated aminotransferases were approximately half of the prevalences we describe in NHANES 1999-2002, but the predictors of elevated ALT activity were similar.

Conclusions: The current prevalence of elevated ALT activity in the United States (8.9%) is more than double that of previously available estimates. This prevalence is very high (7.3%) even among persons without viral hepatitis C or excessive alcohol consumption and is strongly associated with risk factors for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Alanine Transaminase / blood*
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / blood*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Liver Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Aspartate Aminotransferases
  • Alanine Transaminase