Amylase and Lipase Tests

Medically reviewed by Judith Marcin, MD on September 25, 2017Written by Christine Case-Lo and Jacquelyn Cafasso on October 5, 2015

What are amylase and lipase tests?

Amylase and lipase are key digestive enzymes. Amylase helps your body break down starches. Lipase helps your body digest fats. The pancreas is a glandular organ that sits behind the stomach and produces digestive juices that empty into the small intestine. The pancreas also produces both amylase and lipase, as well as many other enzymes.

Inflammation of the pancreas, also called pancreatitis, commonly causes high levels of amylase and lipase in the bloodstream. Learn more about acute pancreatitis here.

Amylase and lipase tests are used to detect pancreatitis. The tests measure the amount of these enzymes circulating in your bloodstream. These enzymes are typically checked when you have symptoms of acute pancreatitis or another pancreatic disorder and your doctor wants to confirm the diagnosis.

Symptoms of pancreatitis may include:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • back pain
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite

There are also many other potential causes of abdominal pain. Other causes include appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy in women, and intestinal blockage, among others. Checking amylase and lipase levels is important to help determine if the cause of these symptoms is pancreatitis, or something else.

What are normal levels of amylase and lipase?

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. The pancreas makes lipase to digest fats into fatty acids. Sugars and fatty acids can then be absorbed by the small intestine. Some amylase and lipase can be found in saliva and in the stomach. However, most of the enzymes made in the pancreas are released into the small intestine.

Amylase levelsLipase levels
Normal23-85 U/L
(some lab results go up to 140 U/L)
0-160 U/L
Pancreatitis suspected> 200 U/L> 200 U/L

In a healthy individual, a normal blood amylase level is around 23-85 units per liter (U/L), although some lab ranges for normal amylase go up to 140 U/L.

A normal lipase level can range from 0-160 U/L depending on the lab.

When the pancreas is damaged, these digestive enzymes can be found in the blood at higher levels than normal. Amylase or lipase results more than three times normal levels are likely to mean pancreatitis or damage to your pancreas. However, in rare cases, there can be significant damage to the pancreas without abnormal amylase or lipase levels. In these cases, abdominal pain is the most common symptom. Early in the course of damage to the pancreas, amylase or lipase levels may be also be normal.

What causes abnormal amylase levels?

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

  • acute pancreatitis, sudden inflammation of the pancreas
  • chronic pancreatitis, long-term inflammation of the pancreas
  • pancreatic pseudocyst, fluid-filled sac around the pancreas
  • pancreatic cancer
  • cholecystitis, inflammation of the gallbladder
  • ectopic pregnancy, an egg implantation outside of the uterus
  • mumps
  • salivary gland blockage
  • intestinal blockage
  • macroamylasemia, the presence of macroamylase in the blood
  • perforated ulcer
  • medications
  • eating disorders
  • kidney problems

Lower than normal levels of amylase may indicate severe injury to the pancreas, high triglycerides, prediabetes, or diabetes.

There are some medications that can increase the amount of amylase in your blood without any illness present:

  • some psychiatric medications
  • some birth control pills
  • corticosteroids
  • some chemotherapy drugs
  • blood pressure medication
  • methyldopa
  • thiazide diuretic
  • antiviral medications
  • some antibiotics

What causes abnormal lipase levels?

Lipase levels may be abnormally high if someone is experiencing:

  • acute pancreatitis, 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, an allergy to gluten
  • duodenal ulcer
  • macrolipasemia
  • HIV infection

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

Drugs that may affect the levels of lipase in your bloodstream are the same ones known to affect the levels of amylase.

Amylase and lipase during pregnancy

Acute pancreatitis is rare during pregnancy. However, it can lead to problems with your baby if it does occur.

Research suggests that serum amylase and lipase levels don’t change during pregnancy. In other words, what are considered normal levels of amylase and lipase are about the same in pregnant women as in women who aren’t pregnant. Increases in serum amylase and lipase levels during pregnancy should be considered the same way they are in women who aren’t pregnant.

How should you prepare for an amylase and lipase test?

There’s no special preparation necessary for an amylase or lipase blood test. You may want to wear a loose fitting or short-sleeved shirt so your doctor can easily access a vein in your arm.

What to expect during an amylase and lipase test

There are many reasons why you might be experiencing abdominal pain or other symptoms. Amylase and lipase tests are just pieces of the puzzle. Your doctor will first take a medical and family history, perform a physical examination, and ask if you’re taking any medications.

An amylase or lipase test requires a health professional to take a small amount of blood from your vein. Usually the test is administered as follows:

  1. A health professional will clean the area of skin around a vein in your elbow or on the back of your hand with an antiseptic.
  2. An elastic band will be tied around your upper arm to apply pressure and allow your blood to fill the vein.
  3. A needle will be inserted into the vein.
  4. Blood will be removed and put into a vial or small tube. Collecting the blood should only take a minute or two.
  5. The elastic band is removed.
  6. The blood is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

A small amount of pain and bruising is possible at the site of insertion. Excessive bleeding, fainting, lightheadedness, and infection are rare but possible. Since high amylase levels may be associated with decreased kidney function, your doctor may order other blood tests or a urine amylase test.

What do the test results mean?

When levels of lipase and amylase are higher than normal it may indicate pancreatic injury or another disease. Most studies show that levels of greater than three times the upper limit of normal usually lead to a diagnosis of pancreatitis, according to guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG). Lipase levels alone can’t determine the severity of an acute pancreatitis attack. When these test results are abnormal, you may need other tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan, and endoscopy.

Elevated amylase levels show your doctor that there’s a problem, but it may not necessarily involve your pancreas. However, lipase levels compared with amylase levels are usually more specific for pancreatic disorders. Evaluating the results of the two tests and your symptoms can help your doctor diagnose or rule out pancreatitis or other conditions of the pancreas.

If you experience severe abdominal pain, see your doctor immediately. Based on the results of an amylase test, a lipase test, and your medical history, your doctor can decide if additional tests are needed or determine what type of treatment is needed.

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