Amylase is a pancreatic enzyme. Your blood test helps find out if your pancreas is diseased, whether your levels are high or low. What is it and what does it consist of? Why does it rise or fall?
Unlike other elements that we can find within a blood test, regarding the parameters that are analyzed in a basic way and that allow us to discover, assess and know the state of health of the person who performs it, the truth is that amylase becomes one of those necessary elements that should be included.
But, nevertheless, it does not happen like that. Despite the fact that it is a parameter that, as we will see throughout this note, becomes a useful element to discover possible inflammations or conditions of the pancreas, in the same way that high keratinize (kidneys) or transaminases (liver).
What is amylase?
Amylase consists of an enzyme that is produced mainly in the pancreas and in the salivary glands. Among other important functions, it helps break down carbohydrates and starches into sugar.
It is, as you might imagine, a very important process, since sugar ends up turning into glucose over time, stimulating practically all the processes in our body.
Why is the amylase test done and what is it for?
The amylase test measures the amount of this enzyme in the blood. Although it is normal for the blood to contain small amounts of amylase, a high amount is not so normal.
In fact, a high amount of amylase means that the pancreas is affected, either because it is inflamed, injured or blocked.
Usually this analysis is carried out when the medical specialist suspects that there may be a problem in the pancreas, given the symptoms that the person presents at the time of the consultation, either due to pancreatitis, an obstruction in the duct that transports both the amylase like other substances from the pancreas to the small intestine, or by stones.
On the other hand, the amylase test also tends to be done as a way of monitoring people with cystic fibrosis. It is a genetic disease in which thick mucus tends to obstruct the pulmonary passageways and the various ducts of the digestive system, affecting both the lungs and the pancreas.
In fact, amylase tends to rise when this thick mucus clogs the pancreatic ducts that carry enzymes that the small intestine needs for proper digestion of food. As a consequence, there are problems absorbing nutrients.
The blood amylase test is usually done in conjunction with lipase, another enzyme in the pancreas that helps break down fats, and can help find out whether or not there is indeed a problem with the pancreas.
Normal blood amylase values
As you surely know, the ranges of normal values of the different parameters analyzed in a blood or urine test may vary slightly between different laboratories.
In the case of amylase in the blood, values between 23 and 85 U/L (units per liter) are considered normal, although some laboratories give values between 40 and 140 U/L as a normal range.
Elevated or decreased levels of amylase in the blood
As we indicated previously, high levels of amylase in the blood may indicate the existence of a pancreatic disease or an injury to the pancreas, either due to a disease that directly affects this organ (as occurs with cystic fibrosis), due to inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), or due to the obstruction of the different pancreatic ducts (because of stones).
It can also be indicative of reduced kidney function, mainly because amylase tends to be filtered by the kidney, and eliminated from the body through urine.
Briefly, blood amylase can be elevated by:
- Acute or chronic pancreatitis.
- Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis).
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Intestinal occlusion.
- Cancer of the pancreas, lungs or ovaries.
- Obstruction of the biliary or pancreatic ducts.
- Salivary gland infection (mumps).
- Severe gastroenteritis.
- perforated ulcer.
- Ectopic pregnancy.
On the other hand, decreased levels of amylase in the blood indicate that the pancreas is not producing enough of this pancreatic enzyme.
It can also be due to different conditions, such as: damage and injury to the pancreas, nephropathy, toxemia of pregnancy and pancreatic cancer.