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.
Keep in mind that many people in the medical community no longer use this test. Many professionals do not consider this test cost effective.
In many situations, checking amylase levels is not helpful clinically. A lipase test is currently the preferred test.
An amylase blood test is used to diagnose or monitor problems with your pancreas. Your doctor may order an amylase test if you have symptoms of a pancreatic disorder.
Symptoms of a pancreatic disorder include:
- nausea and vomiting
- severe abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
- loose, oily, foul-smelling stools (steatorrhea)
A healthcare professional may also order an amylase test to monitor an existing condition,
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:
- pancreatic pseudocyst
- pancreatic abscess
- pancreatic cancer
Symptoms vary for the different diseases, but they may include:
- upper abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
It’s important to 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
- 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:
- A healthcare professional will apply an antiseptic to the area where your blood will be drawn.
- They will tie an elastic band 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, the professional will insert a needle 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 professional will remove the needle and apply a sterile bandage over the puncture site.
- Collected blood is then sent to a lab for testing.
You can expect to receive the results of your amylase blood test in 2 to 4 days.
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.
Sometimes, a blood amylase test may be used alongside another test, called a lipase test, to detect pancreatic diseases. Amylase tests are sensitive for pancreatic diseases but not specific, so lipase tests can be used to help a healthcare professional diagnose or rule out pancreatitis or other conditions.
High level causes
A high amylase count can be a sign of the following
- 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 lasts longer and will flare up from time to time.
- Cholecystitis. Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder, usually caused by gallstones, which are hard deposits of digestive fluid that form in the gallbladder and cause blockages. Cholecystitis can sometimes be caused by tumors.
- Macroamylasemia. Macroamylasemia develops when macroamylase is present in the blood. Macroamylase is amylase attached to a protein.
- Gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract caused by bacteria. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
- Peptic ulcers or a perforated ulcer. A peptic ulcer is a condition in which the lining of the stomach or intestine becomes inflamed, causing ulcers to develop. When ulcers extend all the way through the tissue of the stomach or intestine, it’s called a perforation and is a medical emergency.
- Tubal, or ectopic pregnancy. A tubal pregnancy occurs when a 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 the uterus.
- Other conditions can also cause high amylase counts, including vomiting from any cause, heavy alcohol use, salivary gland infections, intestinal blockages, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, acute appendicitis, diabetic ketoacidosis, mumps, or intestinal obstruction.
Low level causes
A low amylase count can indicate the following problems:
- Preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs when you are pregnant or postpartum and have high blood pressure. It’s also known as toxemia of pregnancy.
- Kidney disease. Kidney disease can be caused by many medical problems, but the most common are high blood pressure and diabetes.
You should discuss your amylase 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.
And remember, an amylase test is no longer preferred by many medical professionals. A doctor may choose to use a lipase test instead.