OBJECTIVE: The ratio of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) to alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is often greater than 2:1 in alcoholic hepatitis. The purpose of this study was to determine whether this ratio may be used to distinguish nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) from alcoholic liver disease. METHODS: Patients with NASH were matched with controls with alcoholic liver disease based on age, gender, and date of diagnosis. The diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease was based on exclusion of other causes and a significant history of alcohol consumption. The diagnosis of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis was based on exclusion of other causes of liver disease and a liver biopsy showing >10% steatosis and inflammation. The two sided Student t test was used for statistical analysis. RESULTS: From 1990 to 1996, 70 patients with NASH were matched with 70 subjects with alcoholic liver disease. Patients with NASH had a mean AST to ALT ratio of 0.9 (range 0.3- 2.8, median 0.7) and subjects with alcoholic liver disease a mean ratio of 2.6 (range 1.1-11.2, median 2.0). The mean AST levels were 66 U/L and 152 U/L, and the mean ALT levels 91 U/L and 70 U/L, in the nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and alcoholic liver disease groups, respectively. Although the absolute aminotransferase levels were significantly different in the two groups (p < 0.05), the greatest difference was observed in the AST to ALT ratio (p < 0.000001). Subset analysis of patients with NASH revealed mean AST to ALT ratios of 0.7, 0.9, and 1.4 for subjects with no fibrosis, mild fibrosis, or cirrhosis, respectively. The differences among these ratios were statistically significant (p < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: The AST to ALT ratio appears to be a useful index for distinguishing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis from alcoholic liver disease. Although values < 1 suggest NASH, a ratio of ≥2 is strongly suggestive of alcoholic liver disease.
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