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Keywords:

  • alanine aminotransferase level;
  • Chinese immigrant;
  • hepatitis B;
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Summary.  Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels are a primary consideration in treatment decisions regarding hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Levels can be elevated as a result of HBV-related liver injury or to other causes. The aim of this study was to assess the background prevalence and clinical correlates of elevated ALT levels in Chinese immigrants who were HBsAg negative. Subjects consisted of adults seen in an urban Chinatown Internal Medicine practice between 1, 2006 and 12, 2007. Clinical information was collected retrospectively. An elevated ALT level was defined as >19 U/L for women and >30 U/L for men. The primary analysis focused on 2457 persons who were HBsAg negative. Their mean age was 55 ± 18 years, 64% were female and 36% were obese. All subjects were ethnically Chinese and 96% were born in Asia. Thirty percent had an elevated ALT level. In univariate analysis, factors associated with elevated ALT included older age (< 0.001), female gender (= 0.001), obesity (< 0.001), diabetes (< 0.001), hypercholesterolemia (< 0.001) and hypertension (< 0.001). In multivariate analysis BMI, diabetes, female gender and hypercholesterolemia were significantly associated with elevated ALT level. An additional analysis focused on a group of patients who were HBsAg positive, HBeAg negative and had HBV-DNA levels <1000 copies/mL. Fifty percent had elevated ALT levels. In conclusion, elevated ALT levels are common among Chinese immigrants without HBV (30%) and are associated with features of the metabolic syndrome. Liver biopsy should be performed in selected patients with HBV to distinguish the cause of ALT elevation before initiating antiviral therapy.