Your pancreas makes an enzyme called lipase, which helps your intestines break down the fats in food. If your lipase levels get too high or too low, it might point to an underlying problem with your pancreas.
A doctor can measure your lipase levels with a test called a lipase test.
In this article, we explain the essential information around lipase tests, what they test for, how to prep, and what to expect.
A serum lipase test measures the amount of lipase in the body. Certain levels of lipase are necessary to maintain normal digestive and cell function. But unusually high levels of the enzyme in your blood may suggest a health problem, particularly in the pancreas.
The results from these tests are typically used to diagnose specific health conditions. Healthcare professionals can also use the lipase test to monitor the progression of certain health conditions after diagnosis. But typically, they administer the test to make an initial diagnosis.
A doctor commonly orders the lipase test when they identify that you have symptoms typical of a pancreatic disorder. These symptoms include:
- severe upper abdominal pain or back pain
- oily or fatty stools
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- nausea with or without vomiting
What conditions does a lipase test look for?
A lipase test can support the diagnosis of the following health problems:
Here are a few tips on preparing for the lipase test:
- You don’t need to fast before a lipase urine test. If your doctor is administering a blood test, you might need to fast for 8 to 12 hours beforehand. Always double check with a healthcare professional whether you need to take any preparatory steps for the particular test.
- However, you may need to stop taking certain medications or herbal supplements before the test. These medications may interfere with the test results.
- Talk with your doctor about your medications. Don’t stop taking any of your medications without first speaking with your doctor.
Common medications that may affect the results of the lipase test include:
A healthcare professional usually performs the lipase test on blood taken from a standard blood draw:
- A healthcare professional in a clinical setting will take the blood sample from an arm vein using a needle.
- They will collect the blood in a tube and send to a laboratory for analysis.
- Once the results are reported, your doctor will give you more information about the results and what they mean.
- The procedure usually takes less than 5 minutes to administer.
The doctor can also measure your lipase levels from a urine sample.
The risks of a lipase test are minimal, even though you may feel brief, mild discomfort during the blood draw. 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
- a buildup of blood under your skin, which is called a hematoma
- the development of infection where the needle has broken the skin
- some pain or throbbing at the site of the blood draw after the test
- bruising at the site of the test
If you receive a lipase urine test, there are no known risks.
The results of the lipase test will vary based on the laboratory completing the analysis. Reference values for people ages 16 and older are 13 to 60 units per liter. Your doctor will explain if your results are within the typical range.
This reference range, however, is specific to Mayo Clinic. Different labs may have different reference ranges.
Higher than normal lipase range
If the results of your lipase test are above the reference range, you may have a health condition that blocks the flow of lipase from your pancreas. Possible conditions include:
- Gallstones. These are
solid lumps of bilethat clog your gallbladder.
- A bowel obstruction. This is a severe health problem that occurs when something causes a blockage in your small or large intestine.
- Celiac disease. This is an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the small intestine when a person consumes gluten.
- Cholecystitis. This is a gallbladder inflammation that causes redness and swelling in the area.
- An ulcer. A
stomach ulcermight also increase lipase levels.
- Gastroenteritis. This refers to infection and inflammation
in the digestive system. It’s usually short-lived.
- Pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas. The effects range from mild to severe.
- Pancreatic cancer. Cancer may develop in the pancreas. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, around 60,000 people per year receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in the United States.
Lower than normal lipase range
Lipase tests that consistently show low lipase levels, or values below 10 units per liter, 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. This inherited disorder affects the cells that produce mucus and digestive fluids, damaging the lungs, digestive system, and other organs.
- Chronic pancreatitis. This occurs when pancreatitis leaves damage on the gland that does not get better. It might present as calcification, fibrosis, or inflamed ducts.
Your doctor may order an amylase test at the same time as the lipase test.
An amylase test sometimes helps a doctor diagnose diseases of the pancreas. However, they use it less frequently than the lipase test, since it can come back high due to other problems.
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.