What is amylase?
Amylase is an enzyme, a type of protein that helps your body break down carbohydrates. The pancreas and salivary glands in your mouth make amylase.
There’s normally a small amount of amylase in your blood and urine. But levels that are too high can indicate a health problem.
What’s an amylase blood test?
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,
- eating disorder
What is it used for?
Tests for amylase in blood or urine are mainly used to diagnose problems with your pancreas, including pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. It is also used to monitor chronic (long-term) pancreatitis.
Increases and decreases in amylase levels show up in blood before urine, so an amylase urine test may be done with or after an amylase blood test.
One or both types of amylase test may also be used to help diagnose or monitor treatment for other disorders that may affect amylase levels, such as salivary gland disorders and certain digestive conditions.
Why do I need this test?
You might need this test to help your healthcare provider diagnose or manage a health problem. These problems include:
- Acute, chronic, or alcoholic pancreatitis
- Ruptured ectopic pregnancy
- Digestive conditions such as perforated peptic ulcers, appendicitis, salivary gland infections, or tumors
The test may also be done in an emergency.
Who performs an amylase test?
For the blood (serum) test, a healthcare provider such as a nurse, doctor or laboratory technician takes a sample of blood. For the urine test, you provide a urine sample to a healthcare provider. Then the blood and/or urine sample is sent to a laboratory for testing.
How do I prepare for an amylase blood test?
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 include testing source:
- 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.
What happens during an amylase test?
For an amylase blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
For an amylase urine test, you will need to give a urine sample for the test. A health care professional may give you a cleansing wipe, a small container, and instructions for how to use the “clean catch” method to collect your urine sample. It’s important to follow these instructions so that germs from your skin don’t get into the sample:
- Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them.
- Open the container without touching the inside.
- Clean your genital area with the cleansing wipe:
- For a penis, wipe the entire head (end) of the penis. If you have a foreskin, pull it back first.
- For a vagina, separate the labia (the folds of skin around the vagina) and wipe the inner sides from front to back.
- Urinate into the toilet for a few seconds and then stop the flow. Start urinating again, this time into the container. Don’t let the container touch your body.
- Collect at least an ounce or two of urine into the container. The container should have markings to show how much urine is needed.
- Finish urinating into the toilet.
- Put the cap on the container and return it as instructed.
If you have hemorrhoids that bleed or are having your menstrual period, tell your provider before your test.
Your provider may request that you collect all your urine during a 24-hour period. That’s because the amount of amylase in urine can vary throughout the day. So, collecting several samples in a day may give a more accurate picture of your amylase levels. For this test, you will be given a container and specific instructions on how to collect your sample at home. Be sure to follow all instructions carefully.
In certain cases, your provider may order a test for amylase in peritoneal fluid. This is fluid between the layers of the tissue that line the inside of your abdomen (belly) and cover most of your organs. To get a sample, a health care professional will numb your skin and use a needle and tubing to draw some fluid into a container.
What do my test results mean?
Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your healthcare provider.
The normal range for amylase in a blood sample for an adult is 30 to 110 units per liter (U/L).
If your amylase levels are higher than normal, you may have 1 of many conditions. These include:
- Sudden swelling of the pancreas (acute pancreatitis)
- Chronic pancreatitis that suddenly gets worse
- Cancers of the pancreas, breast, colon, ovary, or lung
- A sore in the pancreas
- A type of cyst in the pancreas (pancreatic pseudocysts)
- Swelling in your abdomen (ascites)
- This is a noncancer (benign) condition marked by having a substance called macroamylase in your blood.
- Peptic ulcer that has a hole in it (perforated ulcer)
- Death of tissue in your intestine (intestinal infarction)
- Blockage in your intestines
- Sudden swelling of the gallbladder (acute cholecystitis)
- Ruptured ectopic pregnancy
- Salivary gland swelling
- Swelling of the lining of your abdomen (peritonitis)
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Kidney problems
- Use of certain medicines such as morphine
- Alcohol use
- Tumors in the prostate
- Eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Higher levels of triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia)
Your levels may also be higher after a pancreatic procedure such as a cholangiopancreatography. They may also be higher after surgery or trauma.
Your amylase levels may be lower with these conditions:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Liver failure
- Cystic fibrosis
Is there anything else I need to know about an amylase test?
If your provider suspects you have pancreatitis, he or she may order a lipase test, along with an amylase blood test. Lipase is another enzyme produced by the pancreas. Lipase tests are considered to be more accurate for diagnosing pancreatitis, especially when pancreatitis is caused by alcohol use disorder. Read more