About the Test
Purpose of the test
The purpose of lipase testing is to assess for diseases of the pancreas, most commonly acute pancreatitis. An organ located behind the stomach, the pancreas produces important hormones as well as chemicals called enzymes. Acute pancreatitis is a health condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen.
Lipase testing is sometimes used to diagnose chronic pancreatitis, a long-term condition that can cause permanent damage to the pancreas. The lipase test may also be ordered to diagnose other health conditions including:
- Intestinal obstruction or injury
- Pancreatic cysts
- Cystic fibrosis
What does the test measure?
A lipase test measures the amount of the pancreatic enzyme lipase found in the blood. Lipase is a digestive enzyme produced by the pancreas. These enzymes help break down foods during digestion so the body can absorb them. Lipase plays an important role in digesting fats, so it’s normal to have some lipase in the blood.
When the pancreas is damaged or inflamed, it produces larger amounts of lipase. If you have acute pancreatitis, blood levels of lipase are usually highest during the first day that symptoms develop. Levels of lipase usually return to normal within 14 days.
When should I get this test?
Your doctor may recommend a lipase test if you are experiencing symptoms that could be related to an abnormal pancreatic condition, especially suggestive of acute pancreatitis.
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Abdominal swelling or tenderness
- Vomiting and nausea
- Rapid heartbeat
- Pale stools
- A full or bloated feeling
- Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes
The lipase test may be given alone or in combination with imaging or other blood tests such as an amylase test.
Finding a Lipase Test
How can I get a lipase test?
Your doctor is usually the one to order a lipase test for you. This may be conducted in a hospital setting or in your doctor’s office. Your doctor may also refer you to an outside lab to conduct the test.
Can I take the test at home?
No at-home lipase test is currently available. The lipase test requires laboratory analysis of a blood sample drawn by a trained health care professional.
How much does the test cost?
The total cost of lipase testing may be made up of several components. These can include the price of your doctor’s appointment or hospital admission, fees for taking your blood sample, and fees for analyzing your sample.
If you have medical insurance coverage, your insurance provider will routinely cover many of these costs. You will likely still be responsible for certain out-of-pocket expenses such as copayments or deductibles.
To learn more about the expenses you could incur from this test, talk to your doctor or other members of your medical team. It may also be helpful to discuss expenses with your health insurance company and the billing department of the lab or hospital.
Taking a Lipase Test
The lipase test is most often performed on a blood sample drawn from a vein. A blood draw may be performed in a hospital, clinic, laboratory, or doctor’s office.
Before the test
The lipase test often requires fasting. This means that you should not eat or drink anything besides water for at least eight hours before your test.
Before you take a lipase test, tell your doctor about any prescription or
over-the-counter drugs you regularly take or have recently taken. Some drugs, such as birth control pills and opioids like codeine, can cause elevated levels of lipase and interfere with the interpretation of test results.
During the test
The blood sample used for lipase testing is frequently collected from a vein in your arm, often from the pit of your elbow.
The health professional who takes your blood sample will clean the skin around the vein with a sterile wipe and may apply a band called a tourniquet to your upper arm. Your blood is drawn through a small needle inserted through your skin and into your vein. The blood collects in a tube attached to the needle.
It’s normal to feel a small amount of stinging or pain when the phlebotomist inserts or withdraws the needle. The complete process of drawing blood rarely takes longer than a few minutes.
After the test
When the health professional finishes drawing blood, they will place a small bandage over the injection site. This can stay in place for several hours if needed. You may notice slight pain or a bruise where the needle went in, but these are typically minor and will go away quickly.
If you fasted before taking the test, you may wish to bring a snack with you in case you are hungry once the test is complete.
Lipase Test Results
Receiving test results
Your lipase test results are usually ready within a few hours to a couple of days, depending on where the test is performed and how urgent your condition may be.
If you are in the hospital, your doctor may be able to discuss the test results with you shortly after the lab completes its analysis. You may also be able to access your results through an online portal, or receive them by postal mail or email.
Your doctor may wish to discuss your test results in person at a follow-up appointment. You may also be able to discuss them over the phone or by email.
Interpreting test results
Lipase results are commonly reported as units per liter, or U/L. They may also be given as microkatals per liter, represented as microkat/L or µkat/L.
You will see a reference range included in your test results which indicates the expected values of lipase in the blood for healthy adults. The range given can depend on the method used to conduct the test and the laboratory performing the analysis.
Elevated lipase may be detected in a variety of health conditions. In acute pancreatitis, blood lipase may be greater than three times the upper limit of the reference range. The lipase test is better than the amylase test for the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis because it is relatively more specific and it remains elevated longer than amylase.
Many other conditions can cause lipase levels to be higher than normal, although lipase levels aren’t usually as high as in acute pancreatitis. These conditions include diseases of the kidneys, liver or gallbladder, obstructions of the intestines, cancer or perforation of the stomach, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and infections.
It’s important that you discuss your lipase test results with your doctor to learn their meaning. Your doctor can explain your results in relation to your health history and other tests you may have had.
When you discuss the results of your lipase test with a doctor, asking these questions may be helpful:
- What are my lipase test results?
- Is my lipase level within the reference range?
- What do my test results mean about my health?
- Will I need additional follow-up tests?