Are you familiar with the acronym GGT? This acronym stands for the enzyme “gamma glutamyl transferase”, an enzyme present in many of our organs. Its levels determine the existence of possible damage or lesions that we have in some organs, especially the liver.
In this article we will explain what GGT is, what it is for and, above all, what it means to have a high GGT. In addition, we will know the most frequent causes of having a high GGT and how its levels are evaluated.
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What is GGT?
GGT stands for gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT).. It is an enzyme located in different organs of our body; its area of highest concentration, however, is the liver, followed by the heart and the gallbladder. In addition, it is also found in the brain, spleen and kidneys, among others, as well as in the blood.
The functions of GGT
But what is the function – or functions – of this enzyme? Fundamentally, it is responsible for metabolizing glutathione, an antioxidant synthesized by our body. On the other hand, it also has the function of transferring glutathione itself to other amino acids and strengthening our immune system.
In this way, GGT helps our body to maintain its health and to keep its cellular homeostatic levels balanced.
What does it mean to have a high GGT?
When is GGT normal and when is GGT high? Within normality, we find the following values: having a GGT between 0 and 30 or between 7 and 50 units per liter of blood. When the values are higher than these, it can be said that we have a high GGT.
This means that the levels of this enzyme in our body are excessive, and it means that there may be some damage (or lesions) in some organs where this enzyme is located. Most likely, although it is not the only possibility, is that the excess GGT is located in the liver.
It is also common that there is a problem in the bile ducts, in charge of transporting bile from the liver to the intestines to better digest food.
But, specifically, why do we have a high GGT? It is generally explained because the enzyme has been filtered in excess from the cells, increasing its level in the blood, possibly due to existing damage in these organs. This occurs especially when we have an irritated or injured liver, or when the bile ducts are obstructed.
Causes of high GGT
The causes of having a high GGT can be diverse.. To determine these causes, it will often be necessary to test the blood levels of other substances. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the most frequent causes of high GGT.
Alcoholism and alcoholic cirrhosis are among the most frequent causes of high GGT. Let us remember that cirrhosis encompasses a series of liver diseases related to alcohol.
Thus, people who consume alcohol in excess and/or those who directly suffer from alcoholism are more likely to develop a high GGT. This is directly due to the damage caused to the liver. In cirrhosis of the liver, for example, the liver stops functioning properly, deteriorates and also shows a series of scars.
2. Heart failure
Another possible cause of high GGT is heart failure. This appears especially in the older population, due to their heart problems. We know that high GGT in heart failure is a very sensitive marker, because as GGT increases, so does the severity of the failure.
3. Diabetes mellitus
When diabetes mellitus is present and medical treatment is not adequately followed, the probability of having a high GGT also increases. Thus, liver lesions also appear.
The next cause of high GGT is hepatitis. Hepatitis involves inflammation of the liver (in turn, its causes can also be diverse: infection by a virus, food poisoning, etc.).
5. Certain drugs
The use of certain drugs can also trigger high GGT. The most frequent drugs that can cause it are: antibiotics, oral contraceptives and anticonvulsants (especially phenytoin and valproic acid). Specifically, antibiotics raise GGT due to their metabolism in the liver (especially if we are pregnant).
On the other hand, phenobarbital (barbiturate) is another drug that is closely related to a possible elevation of GGT.
Other drugs that can cause us to have a high GGT are: amiodarone (allows us to control the heartbeat; it elevates transaminases, a class of liver enzymes), stannins (reduce cholesterol levels).
6. Cysts and liver tumors
Cysts and tumors in the liver can also cause damage that increases GGT. In addition, tumors can put pressure on certain organs.
How is GGT evaluated?
How do we know if we have a high GGT? Through a blood test. However, we can also look for some symptoms that denote having an elevated GGT, such as: having a yellowish color in the skin and eyes, changes in the color of urine and stool, weakness, abdominal pain, drastic decrease in appetite, gastrointestinal pain, nausea and vomiting, etc.
Thus, when we present some of these symptoms, it is advisable to have a blood test to determine objectively whether or not we have a high GGT.
The blood test
When we take this blood test, we should know that we cannot have drunk or eaten anything in the last few hours.
Once the results are obtained, it is important to know that a high GGT can be due to multiple causes, as we have seen. For this reason, it is sometimes necessary to perform complementary tests to assess the level of other substances or enzymes.
Are there any risks involved in a blood test for GGT levels? This procedure is safe and its risks are minimal, although dizziness or fainting may occur during blood collection (especially in children).
On the other hand, as with all blood tests, there is usually a small bruise at the site of collection, as well as mild pain for a few hours or days.