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 your 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 pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas. Amylase levels can also rise due to other pancreatic disorders, such as:
Symptoms vary for the different diseases, but they may include:
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 dose temporarily.
Some medications that can affect the amount of amylase in your blood include:
- birth control pills
- cholinergic medications
- ethacrynic acid
- opiates, such as codeine, meperidine, and morphine
- thiazide diuretics, such as chlorothiazide, indapamide, and metolazone
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 be a sign of the following conditions:
Acute or chronic pancreatitis
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, lasts longer and will flare up from time to 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. Amylase levels will be elevated if the pancreatic duct that allows amylase to enter the small bowel is blocked by a gallstone or inflammation in the area.
Macroamylasemia develops when macroamylase is present in the blood. Macroamylase is amylase attached to a protein.
Peptic ulcers or a perforated ulcer
A peptic 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.
Tubal, or ectopic pregnancy
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.
A low amylase count can indicate the following problems:
Kidney disease is caused by many medical problems, but the most common are high blood pressure and diabetes mellitus.
You should discuss your test results with your doctor. They can help you understand the results and what they mean for your health. Amylase levels alone aren’t used to diagnose a condition. Depending on your results, further testing may need to be done.