The lipase test is a blood test performed to determine the serum level of a specific protein (enzyme) involved in digestion. Lipase is an enzyme produced by the pancreas, which is a large gland situated near the stomach. Lipase works to break down a certain type of blood lipid (triglycerides) into fatty acids.
Lipase appears in the blood together with another enzyme called amylase following damage to or diseases affecting the pancreas. It was once thought that abnormally high lipase levels were associated only with diseases of the pancreas. Other conditions are now known to be associated with high lipase levels, especially kidney failure and intestinal obstruction. Diseases involving the pancreas, however, produce much higher lipase levels than diseases of other organs. Lipase levels in pancreatic disorders are often five to 10 times higher than normal.
The lipase test is most often used in evaluating inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), but it is also useful in diagnosing kidney failure, intestinal obstruction, mumps, and peptic ulcers. Doctors often order amylase and lipase tests at the same time to help distinguish pancreatitis from ulcers and other disorders in the abdomen. If the patient has acute (sudden onset) pancreatitis, the lipase level usually rises somewhat later than the amylase level—about 24-48 hours after onset of symptoms—and remains abnormally high for five to seven days. Because the lipase level peaks later and remains elevated longer, its determination is more useful in late diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Conversely, however, lipase levels are not as useful in diagnosing chronic pancreatic disease.
Patients should be asked whether they are taking certain prescription drugs that can affect the accuracy of the lipase test. Drugs that can cause elevated lipase levels include bethanechol, cholinergics, codeine, indomethacin, meperidine, methacholine, and morphine. Drugs that may decrease levels include calcium ions.
A lipase test is performed on a sample of the patient's blood, withdrawn from a vein into a vacuum tube. The procedure, which is called a venipuncture, takes about five minutes.
The patient should have nothing to eat or drink for 12 hours before the lipase test.
Risks for this test are minimal, but may include slight bleeding from the puncture site, a small bruise or swelling in the area, fainting, or feeling lightheaded.
Reference values for lipase determination are laboratory- and method-specific. In general, normal results are usually less than 200 units/L (triolein methods by titration or turbidimetry).
Increased lipase levels are found in acute pancreatitis, chronic relapsing pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer. High lipase levels also occur in certain liver diseases, kidney failure, bowel obstruction, peptic ulcer disease, and tumors or inflammation of the salivary glands.
Cahill, Mathew. Handbook of Diagnostic Tests. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation, 1995.
Jacobs, David S., et al. Laboratory Test Handbook. 4th ed. New York: Lexi-Comp Inc., 1996.
Pagana, Kathleen Deska. Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 1998.
Janis O. Flores
Amylase—A digestive enzyme that breaks down starch.
Pancreas—An elongated gland situated across the back of the abdomen behind the stomach. It secretes both digestive enzymes and hormones. Pancreatic hormones regulate the level of sugar in the blood.
Turbidimetry—A technique of measurement that analyzes the amount of sediment in a liquid.