If a doctor suspects that someone has pancreatitis, they will perform a simple blood test to check for elevated levels of lipase, an enzyme, in the blood.
The pancreas produces lipase during digestion. This enzyme helps the intestines to break down fats. When the pancreas is inflamed, it secretes extra lipase.
A lipase test, also known as a serum lipase test, can show whether levels of lipase are high. High levels may indicate a problem with the pancreas.
The doctor may also check levels of another enzyme, called amylase, at the same time as the lipase test. This can provide more information that will help with diagnosing a disorder of the pancreas.
In this article, we take a close look at the uses, procedures, results, and ranges of a lipase test. We also describe how to lower elevated levels of lipase.
A doctor will usually order a lipase test if a person shows signs of a pancreatic disorder.
Some symptoms include:
- fatty stools
- nausea with or without vomiting
- intense pain in the upper stomach
- a rapid pulse
- weight loss
- a lack of appetite
- back pain
The doctor may order an amylase test alongside the lipase test. Results of an amylase test can show whether a person has a pancreatic disease.
Amylase levels can point to the following disorders:
- pancreatitis, or swelling of the pancreas, which may be chronic or acute
- gallbladder inflammation
- celiac disease
- kidney disease
- pancreatic cancer
Following diagnosis, the doctor can use lipase and amylase tests to monitor treatment of the condition.
A lipase test is like any other simple blood test.
A technician will first tie a band around the arm so blood pools in the vein. The technician will then select a vein, clean the area, and draw blood with a small needle.
The technician then sends the blood sample to a laboratory, where the lipase levels are measured and analyzed.
Results times vary, depending on the facilities. Ask the doctor to estimate when they expect to receive the results. The doctor will arrange to review the results with the person.
Preparation for a lipase test is minimal. As with any medical test, follow the advice and instructions of doctors and technicians.
The doctor usually asks a person to fast for a specified period, typically between 8 and 12 hours, before the blood test.
A person taking any medications or supplements should tell the doctor about them in advance because some substances interfere with lipase test results. The doctor may advise against taking certain medicines before the test.
The following common medications can alter lipase test results:
- birth control medications
- thiazide diuretics
Normal ranges for results vary, depending on the following factors:
- health history
- method of testing
Because of the variance, it is important to discuss the results with a doctor. The same result may indicate a problem in one person and not in another.
When the laboratory returns the test results, lipase levels are usually given in units per liter of blood (U/L).
Normal ranges can vary between lab facilities. In some facilities, the reference lipase range is 7–60 U/L. If a person's lipase levels are very high, often 5 to 10 times the reference value, this can indicate acute pancreatitis.
The American Association for Clinical Chemistry states that a pancreatic attack causes levels of lipase in the blood to rise within 4–8 hours. These levels may stay elevated for up to 2 weeks.
High levels of lipase can also indicate other problems, with the kidneys or bowel, for example.
Unusually high or low lipase levels can signal different issues.
Elevated lipase levels can indicate a number of conditions, such as:
When a doctor diagnoses and treats the cause of elevated lipase levels, they will reduce.
Acute pancreatitis is one of the most common issues associated with high levels of lipase in the blood. When a doctor detects the condition at an early stage, treatments can include:
- intravenous fluids
- medications to control the pain
- not eating for a recommended period, then starting a bland diet
A doctor will also treat any underlying issues responsible for pancreatitis, such as gallstones or elevated calcium levels. Some medications can cause acute pancreatitis, and in this case, the doctor will change the type or dosage.
A person may be able to reduce their risk of developing acute pancreatitis by eating a healthful diet and avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol.
Whether acute pancreatitis or another underlying condition is responsible for elevated levels of lipase in the blood, receiving treatment should cause levels to return to a normal range.
The lipase test is relatively noninvasive and unlikely to cause any complications.
Test results can help a doctor to diagnose acute pancreatitis and other health issues affecting the pancreas.
Detecting and treating acute pancreatitis at an early stage can prevent the condition from becoming severe.