Patient Test Information

Amylase

Also known as:

Amy

Formal name:

Amylase

Related tests:

Lipase, Trypsin, Trypsinogen

Why Get Tested?

Primarily to diagnose and monitor acute pancreatitis; also sometimes to diagnose and monitor chronic pancreatitis or other pancreatic diseases

When to Get Tested?

When you have symptoms of a pancreatic disorder, such as severe abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, or nausea

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm; sometimes a random urine sample, a 24-hour urine sample, or a sample of peritoneal fluid

Test Preparation Needed?

None

How is it used?

The blood amylase test is used to help diagnose and monitor acute pancreatitis. It is often ordered along with a lipase test. It may also be used to diagnose and monitor chronic pancreatitis and other disorders that may involve the pancreas.

A urine amylase test may also be ordered. Typically, its level will mirror blood amylase concentrations, but both the rise and fall will occur later. Sometimes a urine creatinine clearance may be ordered along with the urine amylase to help evaluate the ratio of amylase to creatinine that is filtered by the kidneys. This ratio is used to assess kidney function because improper function can result in a slower rate of amylase clearance.

In certain cases, for example when there is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites), an amylase test may be performed on peritoneal fluid to help make a diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Amylase tests are sometimes used to monitor treatment of cancers involving the pancreas and after the removal of gallstones that have caused gallbladder attacks.

When is it ordered?

A blood amylase test may be ordered when a person has symptoms of a pancreatic disorder, such as:

  • Severe abdominal or back pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

A urine amylase test may be ordered along with or following a blood amylase test. One or both may also be ordered periodically when a health practitioner wants to monitor a person to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment and to determine whether amylase levels are increasing or decreasing over time.

What does the test result mean?

A high amylase level in the blood may indicate the presence of a condition affecting the pancreas.

In acute pancreatitis, amylase in the blood often increases to 4 to 6 times higher than the highest reference value, sometimes called the upper limit of normal. The increase occurs within 4 to 8 hours of injury to the pancreas and generally remains elevated until the cause is successfully treated. Then the amylase values will return to normal in a few days.

In chronic pancreatitis, amylase levels initially will be moderately elevated but often decrease over time with progressive pancreas damage. In this case, levels returning to normal may not indicate that the source of damage has been resolved. The magnitude of increase in amylase level does not indicate severity of pancreatic disease.

Amylase levels may also be significantly increased in people with pancreatic duct obstruction and pancreatic cancers.

In general, urine amylase levels rise in proportion to blood amylase levels and will stay elevated for several days after blood levels have returned to normal.

An increased level of amylase in peritoneal fluid can occur in acute pancreatitis but may also occur in other abdominal disorders, such as obstructed intestine or decreased blood flow to the intestines (infarct).

A low amylase level in blood and urine in a person with pancreatitis symptoms may indicate permanent damage to the amylase-producing cells in the pancreas. Decreased levels can also be due to kidney disease and toxemia of pregnancy.

Increased blood amylase levels with normal to low urine amylase levels may indicate the presence of a macroamylase, a benign complex of amylase and other proteins that accumulates in the blood.

Is there anything else I should know?

In acute pancreatitis, elevated amylase levels usually parallel lipase concentrations, although lipase levels will remain elevated longer. The lipase test is regarded as more accurate for detecting pancreatitis, particularly acute alcoholic pancreatitis, but both lipase and amylase tests are commonly ordered together when pancreatitis is suspected.

chronic pancreatitis is often associated with alcoholism. It may also be caused by trauma or pancreatic duct obstruction or may be seen in association with genetic abnormalities such as cystic fibrosis.

What is being tested?

Location of the pancreas

Amylase is one of several enzymes produced by the pancreas to help digest carbohydrates. This test measures the amount of amylase in the blood or urine or sometimes in peritoneal fluid.

Amylase is secreted through the pancreatic duct into the first part of the small intestine (duodenum), where it helps break down dietary carbohydrates. It is also produced by other organs, particularly the salivary glands.

Amylase is usually present in the blood and urine in small quantities. When cells in the pancreas are injured, as happens with pancreatitis, or when the pancreatic duct is blocked by a gallstone or by a pancreatic tumor in rare cases, increased amounts of amylase are released into the blood. This increases concentrations of amylase in the blood and also in the urine as amylase is eliminated from the blood through the urine.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm. Sometimes a random urine sample, a 24-hour urine sample, or peritoneal fluid is collected.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

  1. Do elevated amylase levels always mean that I have a pancreatic condition?

    No. Amylase levels may also be significantly increased in people with gallbladder attacks. Urine and blood amylase levels may be moderately elevated with a variety of other conditions, such as ovarian cancer, lung cancer, tubal pregnancy, acute appendicitis, diabetic ketoacidosis, mumps, intestinal obstruction, or perforated ulcer, but amylase tests are not generally used to diagnose or monitor these disorders.

  2. Can medications that I am taking affect the amylase level?

    Yes. Some drugs that may cause amylase to rise include aspirin, diuretics, oral contraceptives, corticosteroids, indomethacin, ethyl alcohol, and opiates (such as codeine and morphine).

  3. What is the difference between P-amylase and S-amylase?

    Amylase is an enzyme that has several different forms called isoenzymes. Different tissues make different forms. P-amylase refers to the type of amylase made mainly in the pancreas. S-amylase refers to the type of amylase made mainly by the salivary glands. P-amylase in the blood increases when the pancreas is inflamed or damaged. S-amylase in the blood increases when the salivary gland is inflamed or damaged. Measuring pancreatic amylase, or P-amylase, may be useful in determining if an increase in a total amylase level is due to acute pancreatitis.