Lipase is a protein that occurs naturally in the body, and it is released by the pancreas to help the body absorb fats properly. If you have symptoms that may indicate that something is wrong with your pancreas, one of the first things your doctor will do is to order a lipase test to ensure that the pancreas is working properly. If it is not, this may be indicative of a problem in the pancreas, which could be serious. Read on to learn more about lipase and what the test is if you need a lipase test, and what to do when you receive results.
What Is a Lipase Test?
Every time you eat food, lipase is released into your digestive tract from the pancreas. The release of lipase helps you absorb fats properly. More technically, lipase converts triglycerides to monoglycerides as well as two fatty acids. It is a protein that is a small, yet important part of how the digestive system works. Overall, lipase helps maintain cell function within the digestive system. If there is too much lipase in the blood, however, this can be indicative of a health problem in the pancreas. Certain pancreatic diseases to be mindful of include:
- Pancreatic cancer
- Chronic pancreatitis (a recurring swelling of the pancreas)
- Acute pancreatitis (an abrupt swelling of the pancreas)
Your doctor may also order an amylase test along with the lipase test. Amylase is another enzyme produced by the pancreas, but amylase is also found in the salivary glands. An amylase test is not typically ordered alone in modern times, because even though it can help diagnose pancreatic disease, it can also come back with false positives. Ordering a lipase and an amylase test together is quite common.
When Do I Need a Lipase Test?
You need a lipase test if your doctor suspects you have a disease of the pancreas. If you have symptoms such as:
- Intense upper abdominal/stomach pain
- Fatty stool
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Back pain
- Nausea (with or without vomiting)
These certain symptoms can be indicative of pancreatic disease. A lipase test is a definitive test used for initial diagnosis. Part of the reason an amylase test is not used solitarily is because, in addition to pancreatic disease, high amylase can also be a sign of:
- Kidney disease
- Gallbladder inflammation
- Celiac disease
If you are diagnosed with the above conditions or with a pancreatic disease, your doctor may commonly order lipase and amylase tests together in order to monitor your progress.
What Is the Preparation for the Test?
There is very little preparation involved when it comes to taking a lipase test. Because it is a standard blood test like a complete blood count (CBC), it requires very little preparation. It is best if the patient has been fasting prior to the test, however, and most doctors will order a fasting test. For a lipase test specifically, the doctor will want you to be fasting for 8 to 12 hours prior to the administration of the test. If you’ve never taken a fasting blood test before, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s a good rule of thumb to not fast for more than 12 hours, as this may negatively affect the results of the test. If your doctor has ordered a fasting blood test, prepare to go to the phlebotomist or laboratory first thing in the morning, or make an appointment early in the day.
Do not eat any food for 8 to 12 hours before your test. It is a common myth that it is okay to drink black coffee in the morning prior to a blood test, but this is not true. Coffee is a diuretic, and it contains caffeine and soluble plant matter, so it should be avoided for a fasting exam.
Similarly, do not drink alcohol 8 to 12 hours before your test. In fact, your doctor may advise you not to imbibe for up to a full 24 hours before taking a lipase test.
It is important to continue your regular medication regimen unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. Some medications that may affect lipase test results include birth control medications, codeine, morphine, and some thiazide diuretics. Check with your doctor if you currently take any of these medications.
How Is the Test Administered?
A lipase test is administered just like any other typical blood test. A healthcare provider in a laboratory will take a blood sample from your arm. If for any reason, you cannot give blood from your arm, the phlebotomist may be able to use your hands or your feet. The phlebotomist will draw the blood into a tube and send it to a laboratory to be analyzed. Very rarely are non-emergency tests analyzed the same day. Most likely, your physician will call you within two to three days with your results.
What Are the Risks of the Test?
The risks of the serum lipase blood test are very minimal, and mainly involve risks from any type of blood draw. If you are sensitive to normal blood draws, you may feel pain or discomfort at the injection site, or you may have slight bruising. Inform your healthcare provider right away if you have extreme pain or unusual bruising. There are general risks associated with any blood draw, which include:
- Development of infection where the skin is broken
- An inexperienced clinician or a dehydrated patient, resulting in multiple “sticks”
- Fainting from the sight of blood
- The accumulation of blood under the skin post-test (which is known as a hematoma)
When it comes to blood draws, the likelihood of accurate results much outweighs the possibility of any side effects.
What Do My Test Results Mean?
Healthy adults age 16 and over should have lipase levels between 10-73 U/L, which is units per liter. If you are above or below this threshold, your doctor will explain to you what your units/liter are and what this means. Low lipase levels may be telling of chronic pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis, while higher-than-normal lipase levels may indicate the presence of pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer. High lipase levels may also indicate gastroenteritis (stomach flu), an ulcer, or a bowel obstruction. Your doctor is likely to order more invasive tests if your lipase levels are on either side of the normal range.
If you need more information on a lipase test or feel you may be struggling with some pancreatic symptoms, request an appointment today at Gi Associates & Endoscopy Center. We have three distinct Mississippi locations for your convenience and for individualized care.