The liver in COVID-19: prevalence, patterns, predictors, and impact on outcomes of liver test abnormalities

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European journal of gastroenterology & hepatology


BACKGROUND: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused a global pandemic unprecedented in over a century, with ≈35 million cases, and more than 1 million deaths globally. Though predominantly a lower respiratory illness, other organ injuries are well-recognized. Among these, liver injury is of major interest. OBJECTIVE: To define prevalence, pattern, predictors, and impact of liver injury among patients hospitalized with COVID-19. METHODS: Demographic, clinical, and biochemical data were collected retrospectively among patients admitted to St. Luke's University Hospital with COVID-19 between 1 March and 18 April 2020. Association of liver tests (LTs) with mortality and need for mechanical ventilation, adjusted for demographic, clinical and biochemical predictors, was examined. RESULTS: Data were available on 551 patients. Prevalence of any or ≥3 × upper limit of normal transaminase elevation on was 61.2 and 9.4% on admission, and 72.1 and 22.4% at peak. Bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase elevations were less common on admission (11.4 and 12.6%, respectively), and at peak (17.7 and 22%, respectively). All liver test (LT) elevations were consistently predicted by inflammatory markers. Hyperbilirubinemia predicted mortality on admission and at peak. Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) had opposite impact on mortality with AST positively, and ALT negatively associated with mortality. Hence, besides hyperbilirubinemia, AST:ALT ratio emerged as the best marker for mortality among the LTs. CONCLUSION: LT elevations among patients presenting with COVID-19 are very common, though majority are mild. Admission and peak bilirubin ≥1 mg/dl, as well as admission and peak AST:ALT ratio were significant predictors of mortality, along with age, myocardial injury, and chronic medical illness.

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