Amylase is a digestive enzyme that is produced by the salivary gland and the pancreas. This write-up provides information on the diagnostic test that is conducted for checking amylase levels.
Amylase is a digestive enzyme that is primarily produced in the pancreas and the salivary glands. It helps in breaking down carbohydrates and starch into simpler forms of sugar. When we consume foods that are rich in starch, the enzyme present in the saliva acts on such foods and helps in breaking them down into the usable form of sugar. The simple form of sugar is converted into glucose, which is the body’s preferred form of energy. More often than not, an amylase test is often conducted to ascertain if a person is affected by pancreatitis. High levels of this digestive enzyme in blood and urine could also be indicative of pancreatic disorders or salivary gland problems.
Amylase is basically categorized into three types: alpha, beta, and gamma amylase. The first type includes the enzyme produced by the pancreas and the salivary glands, whereas the second type occurs in higher plants. Whenever the patient is exhibiting symptoms related to pancreatic disorders, the serum alpha-amylase test is conducted. This test helps in diagnosis of pancreatic disorders. The level of the enzyme can be measured by testing blood or urine samples.
Before blood is drawn from a vein, the area around the vein is cleaned and an antiseptic is applied. An elastic band is placed around the upper arm, so that the veins below the band swell up with blood. Blood is then drawn and collected in an airtight vial. Since birth control pills, aspirin, corticosteroids, pentazocine, and some other drugs might affect the level of this enzyme, patients are advised not to take these drugs before the test. One must not consume alcohol before the test, as it might affect the test results.
The normal levels of amylase in blood range from 25 to 140 U/L (units/liter). The reference range might vary, depending on the laboratory and the methods used for testing. If necessary, the physician may also conduct urinalysis and lipase test to rule out other health conditions. Somogyi sarcogenic method is another method that is commonly used in the serum test. The normal range under this test is ascertained by measuring the amount of enzyme required for the digestion of 1.5 g of starch in 8 minutes at 37 °C. The normal range is 60 to 200 units/100 ml.
Hyperamylasemia, which refers to high levels of this enzyme, is generally indicative of acute pancreatitis. Inflammation of pancreas generally leads to increase in the levels of amylase and lipase. High levels could also be due to kidney problems, cystic fibrosis, cholecystitis, bile duct obstruction, intestinal obstruction, perforated ulcers, salivary gland infection, or cancer of the pancreas.
If the levels are below the normal range, it could be indicative of damage to the pancreas, pancreatic cancer, chronic pancreatitis, cirrhosis, and kidney problems. Besides diagnosing conditions associated with pancreas or salivary glands, this test also helps the doctors check the effectiveness of treatments used for pancreatic disorders. If the level of enzyme doesn’t return to normal even after the use of medications, doctors can then consider other treatment options.
The amylase test serves as a very useful tool in the diagnosis of pancreas problems. It also helps the doctors determine, if the patient is responding well to the treatment.