Amylase is an enzyme produced by your pancreas and your salivary glands. The pancreas is an organ that provides various enzymes to help your intestines break down food.
Amylase’s main job is to help you digest carbohydrates in food, but physicians can also measure the amount of amylase in your body to determine if you may have certain diseases or disorders. When the pancreas is diseased or inflamed, amylase is released into the blood.
There is always some amylase present in your body. It can be measured by testing a sample of your blood. If there is too little or too much amylase in your blood, it can indicate a variety of problems, particularly with the pancreas.
Amylase can also be measured in your urine.
The nurse or lab technician will apply an antiseptic to the skin where the blood will be drawn. Then, he or she will place an elastic band around the upper arm to cause pressure and increase the amount of blood in the veins.
The nurse will then puncture a vein using a needle. Once the vein is punctured, the blood will flow through the needle into a small container that is attached to it. When enough blood has been collected, the nurse will remove the needle and apply pressure and a Band-Aid to the puncture site.
You should avoid drinking alcohol before your test.
Discuss with your physician any medications you are taking. Some medications might affect the amount of amylase detectable in the blood. Your doctor may instruct you to temporarily stop taking certain medications or change the dosage before administering an amylase test.
Some medications that could heighten the amount of amylase in the blood include:
- birth control pills
- cholinergic medications
- ethacrynic acid
- opiates (codeine, meperidine, morphine)
- thiazide diuretics (chlorothiazide, hydrochlorothiazide, indapamide, metolazone)
What is considered a normal amount of amylase in the blood can vary depending on the lab analyzing the sample. Some laboratories classify normal as 23 to 85 units per liter, while others consider 40 to 140 units per liter as normal.
Discuss your test results with your doctor to better understand them.
Abnormal results can occur for a number of reasons, depending on whether they are too high or too low. For example, a high or low count could indicate pancreatic cancer. A high count could also be a warning sign for lung or ovarian cancer.
These conditions are also possible causes of a high amylase count:
- Acute or chronic pancreatitis: enzymes that help break down food in the intestines malfunction and begin breaking down the tissues of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis is sudden but may not last long, while chronic pancreatitis does not improve and worsens over time.
- Cholecystitis: inflammation of the gallbladder. Cholecystitis is usually caused by gallstones. Gallstones are deposits of hardened cholesterol or other substances that can form in the gallbladder, and cause blockages. This condition can also sometimes be caused by tumors.
- Macroamylasemia: the presence of macroamylase in the blood. This is an abnormal compound of the enzyme and a protein.
- Gastroenteritis: inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Perforated ulcer: inflammation in the lining of the stomach or the intestine that results in sores called ulcers. If ulcers extend all the way through the tissue of either organ, it is called a perforation, which is considered a medical emergency.
- Tubal pregnancy: the fertilized egg (embryo) is in one of the fallopian tubes (tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus) instead of in the uterus. This is also called an ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy that takes place outside the uterus.
- Other conditions: can also cause elevated amylase counts, including salivary gland infections, or intestinal blockages.
A low count can indicate the following problems:
- preeclampsia: a condition in pregnant women, also called toxemia of pregnancy. Signs of this condition also include high blood pressure.
- damaged pancreas
- kidney disease