Your pancreas makes an enzyme called lipase. When you eat, lipase is released into your digestive tract to help your intestines break down the fats in the food you’re eating. Lipase also allows cell nutrients and cell waste to move through the walls of the cells in your body.
Certain levels of lipase are needed to maintain normal digestive and cell function. Abnormally high levels of the enzyme in your blood can be a sign of a health problem.
The serum lipase test is used to measure the amount of lipase in the body. The lipase test is often ordered at the same time as the amylase test. An amylase test is used to diagnose diseases of the pancreas. The results from these tests are typically used to diagnose and monitor specific health conditions, including:
- acute pancreatitis, which is a sudden swelling of the pancreas
- chronic pancreatitis, which is a chronic or recurrent swelling of the pancreas
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- cystic fibrosis
- pancreatic cancer
The lipase test is commonly ordered when you have one of the health conditions noted above. Increases in the level of lipase may signal the worsening of a disease. Your doctor can also use the test to find out how effective your treatment plan is. Your doctor will be looking for lowered lipase levels if you have pancreatitis. The lipase test will help your doctor to monitor treatment effectiveness and outcomes.
Although the lipase test can be used to monitor certain health conditions, the test can also be used for initial diagnosis. Your doctor may order the test if you have clinical symptoms of a pancreatic disorder. These include:
- severe upper abdominal pain or back pain
- oily or fatty stools
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- nausea with or without vomiting
You’ll need to fast for eight hours before you get the test. Typically, this means that no food or drink, except water, can be taken by mouth after midnight the night before.
Additionally, you may need to stop taking certain medications or herbal supplements before the test. These medications may interfere with the test results. Talk to your doctor about your medications. Don’t stop taking any of your medications without checking with your doctor first.
Common medications that may affect the results of the lipase test include:
- birth control pills
- thiazide diuretics
The lipase test is performed on blood taken from a standard blood draw. The blood sample is commonly taken from your arm by a healthcare professional in a clinical setting. The blood will be collected in a tube and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Once the results are reported, your doctor will be able to give you more information about the results and what they mean.
You may have discomfort during the blood draw. Needle sticks may result in pain at the site where your blood is drawn during the test. Following the test, you may experience pain or throbbing at the site of the blood draw. You may also notice bruising after the test is over.
The risks of the lipase test are minimal. These risks are common for most blood tests. Potential risks for the test include:
- difficulty obtaining a sample, resulting in multiple needle sticks
- fainting from the sight of blood, which is called a vasovagal response
- an accumulation of blood under your skin, which is called a hematoma
- the development of infection where the skin is broken by the needle
The results of the lipase test will vary based on the laboratory completing the analysis. The normal range of lipase is typically under 140 units per liter (U/L), although there are minor differences from lab to lab. Depending on your specific health issues, as well as age, values as high as 200 U/L may be considered normal. Your doctor will explain what results are considered normal for you.
You may have a health condition that blocks the flow of lipase from your pancreas if the results of your lipase test are higher than normal. Examples include:
- a bowel obstruction
- celiac disease
- an ulcer
- pancreatic cancer
Lipase tests that consistently show low lipase levels, or values below 110 U/L, may indicate the presence of other health conditions that can affect your pancreas. In particular, decreased levels of lipase may indicate the presence of cystic fibrosis.
The lipase test can provide important health information. Your doctor will most likely order this test if they’re concerned about your pancreas or a digestive disorder.