written by: Teresa Martin•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 7/13/2010
Historically self-evaluation has been used to determine level of daily alcohol consumption. While those who drink heavily may underestimate their daily consumption, lab test results for heavy drinking do not lie!
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The Battery of Tests to Diagnose Heavy Drinking
A few select lab test results for heavy drinking can give clarity to an arena that has historically relied upon self-evaluation. Heavy drinking is objectively identified through an elevated CDT (carbohydrate deficient transferrin), a high GGT (gamma glutamyl transpeptidase), an elevated (moderate) level of ALT (alanine transaminase) and AST (aspartate transaminase), and a high MCV (mean corpuscular volume) also known as macrocytosis. According to research by Peter M. Miller and Raymond F. Anton of the Medical University of South Carolina the CDT has a 90% sensitivity. The GGT has about 70% sensitivity. The ALT and AST are affected by other disease processes and therefore high lab test results for heavy drinking using ALT and AST alone cannot be considered definitive.
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How Heavy Drinking Affects the Body
Heavy drinking over a long time affects many organs including the liver, brain, pancreas, and the heart. People who drink heavily are at risk for developing cardiac problems, nutritional malabsorption, diabetes, liver disease, cancer as well as neuropathy and damage to the central and motor nervous systems. The degree of damage that occurs is relative to the amount of alcohol consumed and the length of time. It is also affected by other factors including genetics and nutritional base.
Lab test results for individuals persisting in heavy drinking of long periods of time will reflect the degree of damage sustained and highlight the organ systems most affected. The lab test results for specific organs would be affected by heavy drinking and the degree of abnormality indicates the extent of damage.
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The liver has many important functions. Heavy alcohol consumption will impact its ability to perform these functions. Specifically the enzymes affected may include GGT, and ALT which are specific to the liver. Other enzymes that may be elevated and possibly indicate liver damage are AST which is found in the liver and other organs. When there is liver damage these enzymes are released from the cells into the bloodstream resulting in elevated lab test results which may be from diseases other than heavy drinking.
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Kidney function is measured primarily by BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine. These lab test results will aid in determining how heavy drinking has harmed the kidneys. The mechanism of damage comes through an increase in blood pressure which is a side effect of heavy drinking.
Normal functioning kidneys excrete additional salt and water when blood pressure increases. Blood volume decreases and blood pressure returns to normal. Abnormal kidney function due to high blood pressure may include the presence of red blood cells in the urine as well as abnormal amounts of protein. Abnormal kidney function can result from many different causes and can only be used in conjunction with physical examination, history and other blood tests.