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Blood Test: Amylase

What It Is

Amylase is an enzyme produced mainly by the salivary glands and the pancreas (an organ located behind the stomach) that helps breaks down the carbohydrates and starches we eat into simple sugars. This is important because simple sugars are ultimately converted to glucose, which fuels all of our body's processes. An amylase test measures the amount of amylase in the blood.

Small amounts of amylase are normally present in the blood. However, increased amounts may be released into the blood when the pancreas is injured, inflamed, or blocked.

Why It's Done

An amylase test may be ordered if a doctor suspects a pancreatic problem, including pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), gallstones, or a blockage of the duct that carries amylase and other substances from the pancreas to the small intestine. Symptoms of a pancreatic disorder may include abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, or nausea.

The amylase test also may be used to help monitor patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition in which thick mucus blocks passages in the lungs and digestive system, causing repeated lung infections and problems with absorbing nutrients. In CF, blood levels of amylase may rise when mucus blocks the pancreatic ducts from carrying the enzymes that the small intestine needs to digest food properly.

Preparation

No special preparations are needed for this test. However, certain drugs might alter the test results, so tell your doctor about any medications your child is taking.

On the day of the test, having your child wear a short-sleeve shirt can make things faster for the technician who will be drawing the blood.

The Procedure

A health professional will clean the skin surface with antiseptic and place an elastic band (tourniquet) around the upper arm to apply pressure and cause the veins to swell with blood. Then a needle is inserted into a vein (usually in the arm inside of the elbow or on the back of the hand) and blood is withdrawn and collected in a vial or syringe.

After the procedure, the elastic band is removed. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed and the area is covered with cotton or a bandage to stop the bleeding. Collecting the blood for this test will only take a few minutes.

drawing_blood

What to Expect

Collecting a blood sample is only temporarily uncomfortable and can feel like a quick pinprick. Afterward, there may be some mild bruising, which should go away in a day or so.

Getting the Results

The blood sample will be processed by a machine. Results are usually available in 1-2 days.

In general, low amylase levels may indicate that the pancreas isn't producing enough of this enzyme. Increased levels may mean amylase is building up in the blood due to pancreatic injury or disease.

High amylase levels also may be associated with decreased kidney function because amylase is filtered from the blood by the kidneys and excreted from the body through urine. For this reason, doctors may order a urine amylase test in addition to the blood test. They also may order a test to measure lipase — another pancreatic enzyme that helps break down fats — to provide a fuller picture of the pancreatic problem.

Risks

The amylase test is considered a safe procedure. However, as with many medical tests, some problems can occur with having blood drawn, such as:

  • fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin causing a lump or bruise)
  • pain associated with multiple punctures to locate a vein

Helping Your Child

Having a blood test is relatively painless. Still, many kids are afraid of needles. Explaining the test in terms your child can understand might help ease some of the fear.

Allow your child to ask the technician any questions he or she might have. Tell your child to try to relax and stay still during the procedure, as tensing muscles and moving can make it harder and more painful to draw blood. It also may help if your child looks away when the needle is being inserted into the skin.

If You Have Questions

If you have questions about the amylase test, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the technician before the procedure.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2011

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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