What’s causing an isolated GGT elevation in my patient with an abnormal alkaline phosphatase on her routine admission lab?

Although serum gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase or GGT is a very sensitive test for liver disease, especially of biliary origin, it’s by no means a very specific test. Besides the liver, GGT is found in the kidneys, pancreas, prostate, heart, brain, and seminal vesicles but not in bone (1-4).

 
Obesity, alcohol consumption and drugs are common causes of GGT elevation (2). As early as 1960s, elevated GGT was reported in such seemingly disparate conditions as diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction, nephrotic syndrome and renal neoplasm (3). Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, viral hepatitis, biliary obstruction, COPD, liver metastasis, drug-induced liver injury can all cause GGT elevation (1-4).

 
An isolated GGT does not necessarily indicate serious or progressive liver disease. That’s one reason it’s often not included in routine “liver panel” lab tests (1).

What to do when GGT is high but other liver panel tests such as ALT, AST, albumin, and bilirubin are normal? If your patient is at risk of acquired liver disease, then further workup may be necessary (eg, hepatitis B and C screening tests). Alcohol consumption should be queried. Don’t forget conditions associated with iron overload. If your patient is obese, diabetic or has elevated both lipids, an ultrasound of the liver to look for fatty liver should be considered. In the absence of risk factors, symptoms, or physical exam suggestive of liver disease, isolated GGT elevation should not require further investigation (1).

 
One good thing that may come out of finding an isolated elevated GGT is to encourage your patient to curb alcohol consumption or lose weight when indicated. But don’t rely on a normal GGT to rule out heavy alcohol consumption as it may miss 70% to 80% of cases (6)! 

 
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that GGT activity is thought to increase in alcohol use due to its role in maintaining intracellular glutathione, an anti-oxidant, at adequate levels to protect cells from oxidative stress caused by alcohol?

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References

1. Carey WD. How should a patient with an isolated GGT elevation be evaluated? Clev Clin J Med 2000;67:315-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10832186
2. Newsome PN, Cramb R, Davison SM, et al. Guidelines on the management of abnormal liver blood tests. Gut 2018;67:6-19. https://gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/67/1/6.full.pdf
3. Whitfield JB, Pounder RE, Neale G, et al. Serum gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase activity in liver disease. Gut 1972;13:702-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4404786
4. Tekin O, Uraldi C, Isik B, et al. Clinical importance of gamma glutamyltransferase in the Ankara-Pursaklar region of Turkey. Medscape General Medicine 2004;6(1):e16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1140713/
5. Van Beek JHDA, de Moor MHM, Geels LM, et al. The association of alcohol intake with gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) levels:evidence for correlated genetic effects. Drug Alcohol Depend 2014;134:99-105. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909645/

6. Bertholet N, Winter MR, Cheng DM, et al. How accurate are blood (or breath) tests for identifying self-reported heavy drinking among people with alcohol dependence? Alcohol and Alcoholism 2014;49:423-29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4060735/pdf/agu016.pdf

What’s causing an isolated GGT elevation in my patient with an abnormal alkaline phosphatase on her routine admission lab?

Is my patient with gout at higher risk of cancer?

Although the association of gout with cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus or obesity is well known, increasingly number of epidemiologic studies support the association of gout with higher risk of malignancy. 1,2

A 2015 meta-analysis of 3 studies involving over 50,000 persons concluded that gout was an independent risk factor for cancer, particularly urological, gastrointestinal and lung cancers. 1

A population-based study of comorbidities in over 2 million persons in Sweden found that in addition to an increased risk of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, chronic heart failure, chronic kidney disease and alcohol abuse, gout was associated with increased risk of malignancy: odds ratio 1.3 (1.2-1.5) in men and 1.1 (1.1-1.2) in women. 2

Although serum uric acid has been considered to have anti-oxidant properties, a prospective study of over 28,000 women followed over a median of 15.2 years did not find high serum acid levels to be protective of cancer.3 In fact, uric acid levels > 5.4 mg/dL at the time of subject enrollment was independently associated with increased risk of total cancer mortality and deaths from a variety of malignant neoplasms, including those of breast, female genital organs, and nervous systems. 3 In a similar prospective study involving men, high uric acid levels (>6.7 mg/dL) were associated with increased risk of mortality from gastrointestinal, respiratory and intrathoracic organ malignancies. 4

Whether the observed association between gout and higher risk of malignancy is causal or due to the company that gout often keeps (eg, lifestyle) is unclear.

Fun fact: Did you know that among mammals, only humans, great apes and certain breeds of dogs (eg, Dalmation) produce elevated levels of uric acid in the urine and blood? 5

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References

  1. Wang W, Xu D, Wang B, et al. Increased risk of cancer in relation to gout: a review of three prospective cohort studies with 50,358 subjects. Mediators of Inflammation 2015, Article ID 680853, 6 pages. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26504360
  2. Wandell P. Gout and its comorbidities in the total population of Stockholm. Preventive Medicine 2015; 81:387-91. ISSN 0091-7435. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26500085
  3. Strasak AM, Rapp K, Hilbe W, et al. The role of serum uric acid as an antioxidant protecting against cancer: prospective study in more than 28000 older Austrian women. Ann Onc 2007;18:1893-97. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17785768
  4. Strasak Am, Hilbe RK, Oberaingner W, et al. Serum uric acid and risk of cancer mortality in a large prospective male cohort. Cancer Causes Control 2007;18:1021-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17665312
  5. Bannasch D, Safra N, Young A, et al. Mutations in the SLC2A9 gene cause hyperuriosuria and hyperuricemia in the dog. PLOS Genet 2008;4:e1000246. https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1000246&type=printable
Is my patient with gout at higher risk of cancer?

Can hypothyroidism be associated with hypertension?

Short answer: Yes! Just as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism is also associated with hypertension (1-5). Compared to normal subjects, patients with hypothyroidism have a 3-fold increased prevalence of hypertension, usually diastolic (2). In fact, hypothyroidism has been identified as a cause of hypertension in 3% of patients with high blood pressure and is the most common cause of secondary hypertension after renovascular hypertension (1-3).

 
High systemic vascular resistance and increased arterial stiffness are among the important mechanisms explaining hypothyroid-induced hypertension (1). High systemic vascular resistance is thought to be due to the absence of the vasodilator effects of T3 on vascular smooth muscle and decreased response to beta-adrenergic stimulation, which in turn leads to increased alpha-adrenergic responses. Increased arterial stiffness may also contribute due to the myxedema involvement of the arterial wall. Other potential factors include free water retention due to an inappropriate secretion of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) and obesity in hypothyroid patients (1,4).

 
Similar to its prevalence in hypothyroidism, hypertension is about 3-fold higher in patients with overt hyperthyroidism compared to normal subjects (1). However, in contrast to hypothyroid patients, the hypertension in hyperthyroidism is primarily “cardiogenic”, where the increased blood pressure levels are mainly maintained by the increased cardiac output due to high stroke volume and heart rate (1).

 
Thus, both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be associated with hypertension!

 
Bonus pearl: Did you know that hypertension due to hypothyroidism is typically associated with a low-renin state, is particularly sensitive to salt intake, and may not respond as well to angiotensin -converting enzyme inhibitors (1)?

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References
1. Mazza A, Beltramello G, Armigliato M, et al. Arterial hypertension and thyroid disorders: what is important to know in clinical practice? Annales d’Endocrinologie 2011;72:296-303. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003426611000886
2. Dernellis J, Panaretou M. Effects of thyroid replacement therapy on arterial blood pressure in patients with hypertension and hypothyroidism 2002; Am Heart J 2002;143:718-24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11923811
3. Anderson GH, Blakeman N, Steeten DHP. The effect of age on prevalence of secondary forms of hypertension in 4429 consecutively referred patients. J Hypertension 1994;12:609-15. https://insights.ovid.com/hypertension/jhype/1994/05/000/effect-age-prevalence-secondary-forms-hypertension/15/00004872
4. Saito I, ITO K, Saruta T. Hypothyroidism as a cause of hypertension. Hypertension 1983;5:112-15. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/01.hyp.5.1.112
5. Chaker L, Bianco AC, Jonklaas J, et al. Hypothyroidism. Lancet 2017;390:1550-62. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28336049

Can hypothyroidism be associated with hypertension?

Despite taking higher doses of warfarin, my patient’s INR won’t budge. What am I missing?

Poor compliance is probably the most common and least “exciting” explanation for low INRs despite seemingly adequate or high warfarin doses.  Otherwise, consider the following: 

Increased vitamin K intake: Since warfarin acts by inhibiting vitamin K recycling by VKORC1 (Vitamin K epOxide Reductase Complex), find out if your patient takes multivitamins or loves foods or products rich in vitamin K, ranging from leafy green vegetables to nutritional supplements( eg, Ensure) and even chewing tobacco!1 

Drug interactions: Warfarin is notorious for interacting with many drugs, although its effect is more often enhanced than counteracted. Run the patient’s med list and look for “counteractors” of warfarin,  including carbamazepine, phenobarbital, phenytoin, rifampin, and dexamethasone.2 

Hypothyroidism: Thyroid hormone seems to be necessary for efficient clearance of the vitamin K-dependent clotting factors (II, VII, IX, and X). Thus, larger doses of warfarin may be needed when patients are hypothyroid.3 

Hyperlipidemia and obesity: High lipid levels may allow for high vitamin K levels (since it’s lipid-soluble and carried in VLDL), especially at the start of therapy.4,5 

What if the INR is falsely low? This is usually not the problem although one major trial took a lot of heat for using a point of care INR device that gave low readings in anemic patients.6  When in doubt, check a chromogenic factor Xa test to confirm; 20-30% activity correlates with a true INR of 2-3.7

If none of these explanations fit the bill, consider genetic testing for warfarin resistance.8,9

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that use of warfarin (introduced in 1948 as a rodenticide) has already led to some selective pressure for VKORC1 mutations in exposed rat populations.10

References

  1. Kuykendall JR, et al. Possible warfarin failure due to interaction with smokeless tobacco. Ann Pharmacother. 2004 Apr;38(4):595-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14766993
  2. Zhou SF, et al. Substrates, inducers, inhibitors and structure-activity relationships of human Cytochrome P450 2C9 and implications in drug development. Curr Med Chem. 2009;16(27):3480-675. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19515014
  3. Bucerius J, et al. Impact of short-term hypothyroidism on systemic anticoagulation in patients with thyroid cancer and coumarin therapy. Thyroid. 2006 Apr;16(4):369-74. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16646683
  4. Robinson A, et al. Lipids and warfarin requirements. Thromb Haemost. 1990;63:148–149. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16646683
  5. Wallace JL, et al. Comparison of initial warfarin response in obese patients versus non-obese patients. J Thromb Thrombolysis. 2013 Jul;36(1):96-101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23015280
  6. Cohen D. Rivaroxaban: can we trust the evidence? BMJ 2016;352:i575. https://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i575/rapid-responses
  7. Sanfelippo MJ, et al. Use of Chromogenic Assay of Factor X to Accept or Reject INR Results in Warfarin Treated Patients. Clin Med Res. 2009 Sep; 7(3): 103–105. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757431/
  8. Rost S, et al. Mutations in VKORC1 cause warfarin resistance and multiple coagulation factor deficiency type 2. Nature. 2004;427:537–41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14765194
  9. Schwarz UI, et al. Genetic determinants of response to warfarin during initial anticoagulation. N Engl J Med. 2008 Mar 6;358(10):999-1008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18322281
  10. Rost S, et al. Novel mutations in the VKORC1 gene of wild rats and mice–a response to 50 years of selection pressure by warfarin? BMC Genet. 2009 Feb 6;10:4. https://bmcgenet.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2156-10-4

Contributed by Nicholas B Bodnar, Harvard Medical School student, Boston, MA.

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Despite taking higher doses of warfarin, my patient’s INR won’t budge. What am I missing?

Should I consider a direct oral anticoagulant for treatment of pulmonary embolism in my obese patient?

Evidence supporting the efficacy of direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) in obesity is limited. A major concern is the possibility of subtherapeutic anticoagulation in obese patients when standard doses of DOACs are used.

The International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis recommends1:

  • Standard fixed dosing of DOACs for patients with BMI ≤ 40 kg/m2 or weight ≤ 120 kg.
  • Avoiding DOACs in patients with BMI > 40 kg/m2 or weight > 120 kg. However, if a DOAC is needed, laboratory confirmation of therapeutic drug concentrations (eg, by checking anti-factor Xa depending on the agent) should be performed, and if subtherapeutic, a vitamin K antagonist (eg, warfarin) is recommended instead.

Based on the individual comparison of DOACs with warfarin in patients with “high” body weight (cut-off of 90 kg or 100 kg, depending on the study) and limited data, apixaban may be more effective in preventing recurrent venous thromboembolism or its related deaths. However, other DOACs, such as rivaroxaban, dabigatran, and edoxaban have also been used in patients with high body weight2.  

To add to the controversy, the efficacy of fixed dose dabigatran in obese patients has been questioned3 and some have recommended avoiding DOACs altogether in patients with BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2 or weight > 120 kg, until more data become available4.

As in many situations in medicine, a case-by-case decision based on clinical judgment and patient preferences may be the best way to go!

References

  1. Martin K, Beyer-Westendorf J, Davidson BL, et al. Use of the direct oral anticoagulants in obese patients: guidance from the SSC of the ISTH. J Thromb Haemost 2016; 14: 1308–13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4936273
  2. Di Minno MN, Lupoli R, Di Minno A, et al. Effect of body weight on efficacy and safety of direct oral anticoagulants in the treatment of patients with acute venous thromboembolism: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann Med 2015; 47: 61-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25665582
  3. Breuer L, Ringwald J, Schwab S, et al. Ischemic Stroke in an Obese Patient Receiving Dabigatran. N Engl J Med 2013; 368: 2440–2. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMc1215900
  4. Burnett AE, Mahan CE, Vasquez SR, et al. Guidance for the practical management of the direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) in VTE Treatment. J Thromb Thrombolysis 2016; 41: 206-32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26780747

 

Contributed by Mahesh Vidula, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Should I consider a direct oral anticoagulant for treatment of pulmonary embolism in my obese patient?

What is the utility of bedside skin-fold test in diagnosing Cushing’s syndrome?

Skin atrophy is a common feature of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), a hypercortisol state,  with multiple studies reporting radiographic evidence of reduced skin thickness in this condition1,2.

Measurement of skin thickness on the dorsal aspect of the 2nd or 3rd proximal phalanges on the non-dominant hand by using ECG calipers to pinch together a fold of skin has also been reported to assess skin atrophy in CS, with thickness less than 18 mm correlating strongly with CS3,4; the minimal subcutaneous fat at this location allows for a more accurate measurement of skin thickness.

However, caution should be exercised in interpreting the results of this study. Specifically, some overlap was observed between normal controls and patients with CS.  In addition, the study population was limited to women of reproductive age presenting with oligomenorrhea and hirsutism for at least 2 years, a subset of patients that may account for only 40% of cases with CS5,6.  Further studies are clearly needed to determine the clinical utility of the skin-fold test in patients suspected of CS.

References

  1. Sheppard RH, Meema HE. Skin thickness in endocrine disease. A roentgenographic study. Ann Intern Med 1967;66:531-9.
  2. Ferguson JK, Donald RA, Weston TS, et al. Skin thickness in patients with acromegaly and Cushing’s syndrome and response to treatment. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 1983;18:347-53.
  3. Corenblum B, Kwan T, Gee S, et al. Bedside assessment of skin-fold thickness: A useful measurement for distinguishing Cushing’s disease from other causes of hirsutism and oligomenorrhea. Arch Intern Med. 1994;154:777-781.
  4. Loriaux DL. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome. N Engl J Med 2017;376:1451-9.
  5. Lindholm J, Juul S, Jorgensen JOL, et al: Incidence and late prognosis of Cushing’s syndrome: a population-based study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001;86:117–123.
  6. Lado-Abeal J, Rodriguez-Arnao J, Newell-Price JD, et al. Menstrual abnormalities in women with Cushing’s disease are correlated with hypercortisolemia rather than raised circulating androgen levels. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998;83:3083-8.

Contributed by Sagar Raju, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

What is the utility of bedside skin-fold test in diagnosing Cushing’s syndrome?

How does obesity lower serum brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels in patients with heart failure?

The association between high body mass index (BMI) and low serum BNP levels  has been reported in heart failure patients with diminished or preserved left ventricular systolic function (1).  

However, The exact mechanism underlying the inverse relationship of BNP levels with BMI is unclear.  Decreased production of BNP by myocytes, increased clearance of BNP and decreased sensitivity of the myocytes to stretch have been proposed (1). 

Of interest, in obese patients who undergo gastric bypass surgery, serum BNP levels increases significantly postoperatively and correlates with weight loss  (2).  

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References 

  1. Stavrakis S, Pakala A, Thomas J et al. Obesity, brain natriuretic peptide levels and mortality in patients hospitalized with heart failure and preserved left ventricular systolic function. Am J Med Sci 2013;345:211-217. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23422653
  2. Changchien EM, Shushmita A, Betti F, et al. B-type natriuretic peptide increases after gastric bypass surgery and correlates with weight loss. Surg Endosc 2011;25:2338-2343. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21424205
How does obesity lower serum brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels in patients with heart failure?