Lipase is an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of fats in the body. Considering that the fats are a major source of energy for muscles and heart, lipase performs a very important function in the body. It assists in digestion by breaking down complex triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol, which can be easily assimilated in the bloodstream. Since it is secreted only by the pancreas, abnormal lipase levels in humans may indicate pancreatic problems.
When Do You Test for Lipase Levels
This enzyme is secreted by the pancreas and released into the small intestine, where it triggers the breakdown of fats into fatty acids. It is also assisted by another enzyme named 'amylase', which is also secreted by the pancreas. However, unlike lipase, amylase is not solely secreted by pancreas. Other glands of the body such as saliva also secret amylase. This is the reason why lipase is the only determinant of the normal functioning of the pancreas. Symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, etc., are an indication of a pancreatic disease. Hence, lipase tests are recommended when an individual exhibits the aforementioned symptoms. Further, the tests are also ordered for the diagnosis and follow-up of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and Crohn's disease.
For adults, the test is performed by drawing blood intravenously. Mostly, the vein inside the elbow or at the back of the hand is selected for this purpose. The patient is advised not to consume anything at least 8 hours prior to the testing. Similarly, he is also advised against consuming certain drugs before the test. Bethanechol, cholinergic medications, codeine, indomethacin, meperidine, methacholine, and morphine are some of the drugs that affect the correct interpretation of the test. The intake of these drugs should be discontinued a few days prior to the test or as instructed by your health care practitioner. Similarly, dialysis also affects the reading of the test. Hence, the test is usually performed before the patient undergoes dialysis.
Normal Levels in Blood
The reference scales for normal range for lipase levels vary as per the laboratory and country specifications. Typically, the levels within 3 to 73 units/L are considered normal. In some laboratories, a reading of 0 to 160 units/L is also said to be within a normal range. The variation in normal lipase reference scale may affect the test interpretation to a great extent. Hence, it is best to take your test reports to your physician and let him interpret the test results.
Interpretation of Test Results
If the lipase levels are 5 to 10 times higher than the upper limit of normal levels, then it is a clear indication that the person is affected by acute pancreatitis. Pancreatic cancer, pancreatic duct obstruction, or other diseases related to pancreas may also significantly elevate the levels of this enzyme. When the levels are found to be double the normal levels, then it could be an indication of a kidney disease. Similarly, salivary-gland inflammation, bowel obstruction, or peptic-ulcer disease also elevate the levels of this enzyme.
High levels are usually common amongst alcoholics. The levels stay high for about 5 to 7 days after the attack of acute pancreatitis. After the 8th day, the levels begin to drop down. With proper medications, acute pancreatitis can be cured within 15 days. Chances of its recurrence are less if proper care is taken. Chronic pancreatitis results if the damage due to acute pancreatitis is irreparable, or if acute pancreatitis keeps on recurring. Low levels are found when the person is on saline infusion.
Although the lipase levels are an indication of pancreatic disease, they are not the only tool in diagnosis of the disease. Various other tests, X-rays, and scans are performed to affirm the possibility of a pancreatic disease.
Disclaimer: This WellnessKeen article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.