Amylase Blood Test

What is an amylase blood test?

An amylase blood test measures the amount of amylase in your body. Amylase is a special protein, an enzyme if you will. It is produced by the salivary glands and the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland situated behind the stomach. It produces a variety of enzymes that helps in food digestion in the intestines.

At times, the pancreas may be damaged or inflamed, resulting in the overproduction of amylase, or underproduction of amylase. If the amount of amylase in your blood is below or above the normal, then this may be an indication of a pancreatic disorder. With an amylase blood test, one can determine the presence or absence of pancreatic disease. You may have a pancreatic disorder if your levels of amylase are too high or too low.

Why is an amylase blood test done?

An amylase blood test can be done just by testing your blood sample. In some cases, a sample of urine may be required to determine what quantity of amylase you have in your body.

Your physician will order an amylase blood test if he or she suspects pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. Other conditions that may trigger a rise in pancreatic levels include:

  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatic abscess
  • Pancreatic pseudocyst

Symptoms vary for the different diseases, but they may include:

Preparing for an amylase blood test

It is advisable that one avoids alcohol prior to the test. Also, inform your physician if you are taking any medications. Test results are often affected by certain medications. You may be asked to stop taking a particular drug or the dose may be altered.

Medications that alter the amount of amylase in your blood include:

  • Birth control pills
  • Aspirin
  • Asparaginase
  • Cholinergic medications
  • Methyldopa
  • Ethacrynic acid
  • Thiazide diuretics, such as indapamide, metolazone, and chlorothiazide.
  • Morphine, meperidine, codeine and other opiates.

What to expect during an amylase blood test

The amylase blood test can be done in just a few minutes. It involves drawing a small sample of blood from your vein. The following processes are involved:

  • An antiseptic will be applied to the area where your blood will be drawn
  • Your upper arm will be tied with an elastic band to pool blood in the veins, causing it to swell. This will ease the process of locating a vein.
  • A needle will then be inserted into the vein. Blood then flows from the vein into a small tube attached to the needle. A slight prick may be felt as the needle is inserted. However, the test itself does not involve any pain.
  • Once enough blood is collected, the needle will be taken off and a sterile bandage applied over the site of puncture.
  • The blood collected is sent to the lab for analysis.

Amylase blood test results: what it means

Different laboratories have different definitions of a normal amount of blood amylase. Some laboratories consider a normal amount to be 23 to 85 units per liter. Others take it to be 40 to 140 units per liter. Ensure you speak with your physician about your results. He or she will aid in the interpretation.

People have abnormal results for different reasons. The underlying cause depends on the level of amylase in your blood.

High amylase

The following conditions may cause a high amylase count:

Acute or chronic pancreatitis

This condition arises when the enzymes that help in food metabolism start breaking down the pancreatic tissues. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly but resolves quickly. Conversely, chronic pancreatitis lasts for a longer period and will flare up with time.

Cholecystitis

Cholecystitis is a term that describes the inflammation of the gallbladder. It is caused by gallstones. Gallstones are deposits of digestive fluid that have hardened, resulting in blockages. At times, cholecystitis may be caused by tumors. The levels of amylase will rise if the pancreatic duct through which amylase flows into the bowel is obstructed by a gallstone, or the area is inflamed.

Macroamylasemia

This condition occurs as a result of the presence of macroamylase in the blood. Macroamylase is amylase linked to a protein.

Gastroenteritis

This is a term that describes an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

Perforated or peptic ulcers

A peptic ulcer occurs when the lining of the intestine or stomach is inflamed. It results in the development of sores or ulcers. A perforation occurs when the ulcers extend through the intestinal or stomach tissues.

Ectopic or tubal pregnancy

Your ovaries are linked to your uterus through your fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancy takes place when a fertilized egg is implanted in the fallopian tube rather than in your uterus. This is also referred to as tubal pregnancy. Simply, tubal pregnancy occurs when pregnancy takes place outside of the uterus.

Other conditions that may cause a rise in amylase counts include alcoholism, infections of the salivary gland, vomiting, and blockage of the intestine.

Low amylase

Low amylase concentration may be an indication of any of the following conditions:

Pre-eclampsia: Pre-eclampsia occurs when blood pressure is high during pregnancy. It is also referred to as toxemia of pregnancy.

Kidney disease: This is caused by a number of medical issues, the most common being diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure.

It is important that you discuss your test results with your physician. You physician will help you interpret the results and its implication for your health. Note that amylase blood tests are not used alone to diagnose any condition. Further testing may be required depending on your results.