Amylase is an enzyme, or special protein, produced by your pancreas and salivary glands. The pancreas is an organ located behind your stomach. It creates various enzymes that help break down food in your intestines.
The pancreas can sometimes become damaged or inflamed, which causes it to produce too much or too little amylase. An abnormal amount of amylase in your body may be a sign of a pancreatic disorder.
An amylase blood test can determine whether you have a disease of the pancreas by measuring the amount of amylase in your body. You may have a disorder affecting the pancreas if the levels of amylase are too low or too high.
Amylase is typically measured by testing a sample of your blood. In some cases, a urine sample may also be used to determine the amount of amylase in your body.
An amylase blood test is usually done if your doctor suspects a pancreatic disorder, such as pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, or gallstones. Symptoms vary for the different diseases, but they may include:
- severe abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
You should avoid drinking alcohol before the test. You should also tell your doctor about any medications you may be taking. Certain drugs can affect your test results. Your doctor may tell you to stop taking a particular medication or to change the dosage temporarily.
Some medications that can affect the amount of amylase in your blood include:
The procedure involves taking a sample of blood through a vein, usually in your arm. This process only takes a few minutes:
- The healthcare provider will apply an antiseptic to the area where your blood will be drawn.
- An elastic band will be tied around your upper arm to increase the amount of blood flow to the veins, causing them to swell. This makes it easier to find a vein.
- Then, a needle will be inserted into your vein. After the vein is punctured, the blood will flow through the needle into a small tube that’s attached to it. You may feel a slight prick when the needle goes in, but the test itself isn’t painful.
- Once enough blood is collected, the needle will be removed and a sterile bandage will be applied over the puncture site.
- Collected blood is then sent to a lab for testing.
Laboratories can differ in what they consider to be a normal amount of amylase in the blood. Some labs define a normal amount to be 23 to 85 units per liter (U/L), while others consider 40 to 140 U/L to be normal. Make sure you speak with your doctor about your results and what they could mean.
Abnormal results can happen for a number of reasons. The underlying cause depends on whether the level of amylase in your blood is too high or too low.
A high amylase count may a sign of the following conditions:
- Acute or chronic pancreatitis occurs when the enzymes that help break down food in the intestines start breaking down the tissues of the pancreas instead. Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly but doesn’t last very long. Chronic pancreatitis, however, doesn’t get better over time.
- Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder usually caused by gallstones. Gallstones are hard deposits of digestive fluid that form in the gallbladder and cause blockages. Cholecystitis can sometimes be caused by tumors.
- Macroamylasemia develops when macroamylase is present in the blood. Macroamylase is amylase attached to a protein.
- Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
- A perforated ulcer is a condition where the lining of the stomach or intestine becomes inflamed, causing ulcers, or sores, to develop. When ulcers extend all the way through the tissue of the stomach or intestine, it’s called a perforation. This condition is considered a medical emergency.
- Fallopian tubes connect your ovaries to your uterus. A tubal pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg, or embryo, is in one of your fallopian tubes instead of in your uterus. This is also called an ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy that takes place outside of the uterus.
- Other conditions can also cause elevated amylase counts, including salivary gland infections and intestinal blockages.
A low amylase count can indicate the following problems:
- Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs when you have high blood pressure and you’re pregnant. It’s also known as “toxemia of pregnancy.”
- Kidney disease is caused by a direct trauma to your kidneys, such as severe bleeding or lack of oxygen.
You should discuss your test results with your doctor. They can help you understand the results and what they mean for your health. Depending on your results, further testing may need to be done.