If your doctor thinks something could be wrong with your pancreas — the organ in your belly that helps you digest food — they may do an amylase test. Amylase is a protein made by your pancreas and by glands in and around your mouth and throat. It helps you break down carbohydrates and starches into sugar.
It’s normal to have some amylase in your blood. But too much of it could mean one of the ducts (tubes) in your pancreas is blocked or injured. Symptoms of this may include:
- Belly pain — usually around your navel — that doesn’t go away
- Loss of appetite
Why Do I Need This Test?
In nearly all cases, your doctor will order an amylase test at the same time they order a lipase test. Lipase is a chemical your pancreas makes to help your body digest fats. Together, these tests can tell your doctor if you have a disease of the pancreas, such as pancreatitis, which means your pancreas is inflamed.
They might also order an amylase test if they suspect you have salivary gland disease or if there’s a blockage in the duct that carries digestive enzymes to your small intestine. This blockage may be due to pancreatic cancer, gallstones, or a narrowing of the duct or the sphincter that separates the pancreatic duct from the bowel.
The amylase test is also used to check on people with cystic fibrosis (CF). That’s a disease that causes lung infections. It can also make it hard for your body to absorb nutrients from food. If you have CF, high amylase levels can mean that you have thick mucus plugs that are blocking digestive enzymes from moving from your pancreas to your small intestine.
Preparing for the Test
You don’t have to do anything special to get ready for an amylase test. But tell your doctor if you’re taking medicine, herbs, or vitamins. Some medicines, like aspirin, birth control pills, opiates, and diuretics, can affect the results. Alcohol can, too.
It usually takes a day or 2 to get them.
If your blood amylase level is low, that could mean your pancreas isn’t making enough of the protein. Possible reasons for this include:
- Chronic (ongoing) pancreatitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Liver failure
High levels could signal many things, such as:
- Acute pancreatitis (this means it comes on suddenly)
- Poor kidney function
- Cancer of the pancreas, lung, breast, colon, or ovary
- Swollen salivary glands
- Drug use
Your doctor will order more tests if they feel it is necessary.
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry: “Amylase: Common Questions,” “Amylase: The Test.”
- American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery: “Salivary Glands.”
- Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: “About Cystic Fibrosis.”
- Kidshealth: “Blood Test: Amylase.”
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Amylase (Blood).”