Published online Oct 21, 2022. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v28.i39.5735
Peer-review started: June 22, 2022
First decision: August 1, 2022
Revised: August 12, 2022
Accepted: September 21, 2022
Article in press: September 21, 2022
Published online: October 21, 2022
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was perhaps the most severe global health crisis in living memory. Alongside respiratory symptoms, elevated liver enzymes, abnormal liver function, and even acute liver failure were reported in patients suffering from severe acute respiratory disease coronavirus 2 pneumonia. However, the precise triggers of these forms of liver damage and how they affect the course and outcomes of COVID-19 itself remain unclear.
To analyze the impact of liver enzyme abnormalities on the severity and outcomes of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients.
In this study, 684 depersonalized medical records from patients hospitalized with COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 period were analyzed. COVID-19 was diagnosed according to the guidelines of the National Institutes of Health (2021). Patients were assigned to two groups: those with elevated liver enzymes (Group 1: 603 patients), where at least one out of four liver enzymes were elevated (following the norm of hospital laboratory tests: alanine aminotransferase (ALT) ≥ 40, aspartate aminotransferase (AST) ≥ 40, gamma-glutamyl transferase ≥ 36, or alkaline phosphatase ≥ 150) at any point of hospitalization, from admission to discharge; and the control group (Group 2: 81 patients), with normal liver enzymes during hospitalization. COVID-19 severity was assessed according to the interim World Health Organization guidance (2022). Data on viral pneumonia complications, laboratory tests, and underlying diseases were also collected and analyzed.
In total, 603 (88.2%) patients produced abnormal liver test results. ALT and AST levels were elevated by a factor of less than 3 in 54.9% and 74.8% of cases with increased enzyme levels, respectively. Patients in Group 1 had almost double the chance of bacterial viral pneumonia complications [odds ratio (OR) = 1.73, P = 0.0217], required oxygen supply more often, and displayed higher biochemical inflammation indices than those in Group 2. No differences in other COVID-19 complications or underlying diseases were observed between groups. Preexisting hepatitis of a different etiology was rarely documented (in only 3.5% of patients), and had no impact on the severity of COVID-19. Only 5 (0.73%) patients experienced acute liver failure, 4 of whom died. Overall, the majority of the deceased patients (17 out of 20) had elevated liver enzymes, and most were male. All deceased patients had at least one underlying disease or combination thereof, and the deceased suffered significantly more often from heart diseases, hypertension, and urinary tract infections than those who made recoveries. Alongside male gender (OR = 1.72, P = 0.0161) and older age (OR = 1.02, P = 0.0234), diabetes (OR = 3.22, P = 0.0016) and hyperlipidemia (OR = 2.67, P = 0.0238), but not obesity, were confirmed as independent factors associated with more a severe COVID-19 infection in our cohort.
In our study, the presence of liver impairment allows us to predict a more severe inflammation with a higher risk of bacterial complication and worse outcomes of COVID-19. Therefore, patients with severe disease forms should have their liver tests monitored regularly and their results should be considered when selecting treatment to avoid further liver damage or even insufficiency.
Core Tip: In our study, elevated liver enzymes were detected in 88.2% of patients hospitalized with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase were elevated by a factor of less than 3 in 54.9% and 74.8% of cases, respectively. Regardless of underlying diseases, including hepatitis, these patients had higher biochemical indices of inflammation, required an O2 supply, and exhibited bacterial pneumonia complications more often than those with normal liver tests. Male gender, older age, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia were confirmed as independent factors associated with a more severe course of COVID-19. All deceased patients (2.9%) had underlying diseases - most often heart disease, hypertension, and urinary tract infections.