Amylase and Lipase Tests

Written by Christine Case-Lo
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 29, 2013

Amylase and Lipase Tests

One of the causes of severe abdominal pain is inflammation of the pancreas. This is caused by either acute or chronic pancreatitis. However, there are many other potential causes of abdominal pain, including appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy in women, and intestinal blockage among many others. A few blood tests can help determine the cause of abdominal pain.

Amylase and lipase are enzymes produced by the pancreas that help to digest food. If the pancreas is damaged, high levels of these enzymes can be detected in the bloodstream. Checking amylase and lipase levels can help determine if you have pancreatitis.

Get More Information About Acute Pancreatitis

What Are Amylase and Lipase?

Amylase and lipase are enzymes. Enzymes are proteins produced by the body to do a particular job. The pancreas produces amylase to break down carbohydrates in food into simple sugars. Lipase is produced by the pancreas to digest fats into fatty acids. Sugars and fatty acids can then be absorbed by the small intestine. Some amylase and lipase can also be found in saliva and in the stomach, but most is made in the pancreas and released into the small intestine.

In a healthy individual, a normal blood amylase level is 23-85 U/L (some lab results go up to 140 U/L). A normal lipase level is 0-160 U/L. If the pancreas is damaged, these digestive enzymes can be found in the blood at higher levels than normal. Blood levels more than four times normal levels of amylase (>450 U/L) and lipase (>400 U/L), likely indicate pancreatic damage or pancreatitis.

Abnormal Amylase

There are many reasons why a patient might have abnormal levels of amylase in their blood. These include:

  • acute pancreatitis (a sudden inflammation of the pancreas)
  • chronic pancreatitis (long term inflammation of the pancreas)
  • pancreatic pseudocyst (a fluid filled sac in the abdomen)
  • pancreatic cancer
  • cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
  • severe gastroenteritis (or “stomach flu”)
  • ectopic pregnancy (egg implantation in the Fallopian tube)
  • mumps or salivary gland blockage
  • intestinal blockage or bile duct blockage
  • macroamylasemia (macroamylase in your blood)
  • perforated ulcers

Too-low levels of amylase may indicate certain pancreatic cancers, kidney disease, or toxemia of pregnancy.

There are also a number of medications that can increase the amount of amylase in your blood, even without any illness present:

  • aspirin
  • some birth control pills
  • corticosteroids
  • some chemotherapy drugs, including asparaginase
  • cholinergic drugs (including pilocarpine and neostigmine)
  • methyldopa
  • thiazide and loop diuretics
  • simvastatin,
  • opiates (such as codeine and morphine)

Abnormal Lipase Levels

Lipase levels may be at abnormally high levels if a patient is experiencing:

  • acute pancreatitis (a sudden inflammation of the pancreas)
  • chronic pancreatitis (long term inflammation of the pancreas)
  • pancreatic cancer
  • severe gastroenteritis (or “stomach flu”)
  • cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
  • celiac disease (allergy to gluten)
  • duodenal ulcer
  • macrolipasemia

Abnormal levels of lipase may also exist in patients with familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency.

Drugs that may affect the levels of lipase in your blood include:

  • some birth control pills
  • cholinergic drugs (pilocarpine and neostigmine) and bethanechol
  • thiazide and loop diuretics
  • opiates (such as codeine and morphine)
  • meperidine

About Blood Testing

When you have your blood tested, a health professional inserts a needle into a vein in your elbow or on the back of your hand. Blood is removed and put into a vial. A small amount of pain is possible during insertion of the needle. Bruising is possible at the site, and excessive bleeding, fainting, and lightheadedness are all possible. Infection is a risk, but very unlikely.

Learn the Basics About Pancreatic Cancer

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