What is being tested?

Amylase is an enzyme made mainly by the pancreas. It is released from the pancreas into the digestive tract to help digest starch in our food.

How is it used?

The blood test for amylase is used to help diagnose acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). The swift rise of amylase at the beginning of a pancreatitis attack, and its fall after about 2 days, helps to pinpoint this diagnosis.

When is it requested?

An amylase test may be ordered if you show symptoms of a pancreatic disorder, such as severe abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, or nausea.

What does the result mean?

In pancreatitis, a severe inflammation of the pancreas, amylase levels are very high, often 5-10 times normal. Smaller elevations in amylase levels may also be seen in other causes of abdominal pain such as, gallbladder disease, a perforated ulcer, obstruction of the intestinal tract or diabetic ketoacidosis.

Is there anything else I should know?

In acute pancreatitis, elevated amylase levels usually parallel levels of another enzyme called lipase. Amylase and lipase are sometimes ordered together to diagnose acute pancreatitis.

Chronic (long-term) pancreatitis is often associated with alcoholism. Amylase levels may be moderately elevated with chronic pancreatitis or may be decreased when the cells that produce amylase in the pancreas become damaged or destroyed.

Rarely an unusual large form of amylase (macro-amylase) is found and this may cause persistent elevations of amylase levels without any symptoms. Macro-amylase is amylase that is bound to protein, and due to its large size is not readily cleared by the kidneys. It is benign and does not require treatment.

Common questions

  • What are the treatment options for pancreatitis?

Treatment depends upon the symptoms. If they are absent or mild, there may be no treatment; if they are more severe, your doctor may suggest 'resting the pancreas' using a range of options, from not eating solid foods to fasting combined with intravenous (IV) fluid replacement for several days to a few weeks (usually requiring admission into hospital). This use of medicines and surgery may also be considered for patients with severe symptoms. Sometimes you may need pain management medicines. Nutritional support, such as low-fat diets and frequent small meals, may help relieve symptoms. Oral pancreatic enzyme replacement is another possible choice.

  • Can medications that I am taking affect the amylase level?

Yes. A variety of drugs have been reported to cause moderate elevations in amylase levels.

  • How does amylase work?

Amylase is an enzyme found in plants and animals. It is found in pancreatic fluids in the small intestine, where it digests a variety of sugars and starches. When the pancreas is diseased or inflamed, amylase escapes into the blood.

Last Updated: Thursday, 1st June 2023

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