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The Test Sample
What is being tested?
Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is an enzyme found in cells throughout the body but mostly in the heart and liver and, to a lesser extent, in the kidneys and muscles. In healthy individuals, levels of AST in the blood are low. When liver or muscle cells are injured, they release AST into the blood. This makes AST a useful test for detecting or monitoring liver damage.
The liver is a vital organ located in the upper right-hand side of the abdominal area just beneath the rib cage. It is involved in many important functions in the body. The liver helps to process the body's nutrients, manufactures bile to help digest fats, produces many important proteins such as blood clotting factors, and breaks down potentially toxic substances into harmless ones that the body can use or excrete.
A number of conditions can cause injury to liver cells and may cause increases in AST. The test is most useful in detecting liver damage due to hepatitis, drugs toxic to the liver, cirrhosis, or alcoholism. AST, however, is not specific for the liver and may be increased in conditions affecting other parts of the body.
An AST test is often performed along with an alanine aminotransferase (ALT) test. Both are enzymes found in the liver that become elevated in the blood when the liver is damaged. A calculated AST/ALT ratio is useful for differentiating between different causes of liver injury and in recognizing when the increased levels may be coming from another source, such as heart or muscle injury.
How is the sample collected for testing?
A blood sample is drawn by needle from a vein in the arm.
NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.
Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
No test preparation is needed.