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Liver Test May Predict Heart Trouble

An elevated blood level of an enzyme produced by liver damage also appears to predict the risk of heart disease and stroke.

In a recent study, researchers report that men with even moderately high levels of the enzyme gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) were at a 28% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than were those with low levels. For men with the highest levels, the risk was 68% greater. In women, the increase in risk ranged from 35% to 51%.

A follow-up of more than 11 years found that an elevated GGT level was a better predictor of cardiovascular death than high levels of blood sugar and cholesterol, but not as good a predictor as smoking and high blood pressure.

A blood test for GGT is widely used to monitor liver function. For example, many doctors give this lab test routinely to people who take cholesterol-lowering statins, where liver damage is a possible side effect. The GGT test is commonly included in a blood chemistry panel.

There are two possible reasons why GGT is a marker for cardiovascular disease. First, it is an indicator of general damage to the arteries. Second, it could indicate the damage done to blood vessels by excessive drinking.

Some doctors may overlook a "high normal" or mildly elevated GGT on a blood chemistry panel. This study suggests your GGT test value should be evaluated along with cholesterol and other markers of cardiovascular health.

When you have any blood test, always get a copy for your personal records. If you notice that GGT or any other test value is elevated, always ask your doctor about it -- or bring your blood test report with you the next time you visit our clinic. We will be happy to review it with you.

Source: Ruttmann, E et al, Gamma-glutamyltransferase as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease mortality: an epidemiological investigation in a cohort of 163,944 Austrian adults. Circulation. 2005 Oct 4;112(14):2130-7