Pancreatitis occurs due to inflamed pancreas. The onset of pancreatitis is accompanied with an elevation of lipase levels. So monitoring of these levels is essential. This disease is one of the most widespread pancreatic problems.
What is Lipase and What Role Does it Play?
Lipase is an enzyme secreted by the pancreas and released into the small intestine, where it triggers and aids fat (lipid) breakdown into fatty acids. It converts lipids like glycerides to glycerol and free fatty acids. Chemically, what we refer to as lipase is triglyceride lipase. The class of enzymes to which lipase belongs are some of the most versatile enzymes in nature and perform a variety of tasks throughout the body. The bulk of lipase is produced in the pancreas along with amylase, which is another digestive enzyme.
High lipase levels in patients suffering from pancreatitis, occur due to the nature of the disease, which disrupts the structure and internal functioning of pancreas. Before we discuss normal and abnormally high lipase levels in patients suffering from pancreatitis, let's understand how excess lipase production and pancreatitis are connected.
What is Pancreatitis?
To understand pancreatitis, one must understand the role played by the pancreas. Pancreas is a large gland situated behind the stomach and in proximity of the duodenum, which is the initial part of small intestine. Through the pancreatic duct, which is an enzyme pipeline of sorts, enzymes like lipase are delivered to the duodenum, where it carries out the lipid breakdown after getting mixed with other enzymes like bile produced in the liver. Pancreas also secrete hormones like insulin and glucagon in the blood stream.
In normal circumstances, the enzymes are supposed to start working, once they are delivered into the duodenum from the pancreas. However, when pancreas are inflamed due to excessive alcohol consumption or gallstones, the enzymes become active in the pancreatic tissue itself. Every molecule and every enzyme created in the body has a specific purpose and a specific timing of action and every small one of these metabolic activities is part of a bigger machinery. So the inflammation of pancreas disturbs timing and place of action of the enzyme lipase. Instead of breaking lipids in the duodenum, the secreted lipase starts attacking the pancreatic tissue itself. This leads to pancreatitis, which causes severe bleeding, pain and tissue damage. There are two types of pancreatitis; 'Acute' and 'Chronic'. 'Acute Pancreatitis' is a primary stage, where the damage done to the pancreas is reversible, whereas 'Chronic Pancreatitis' is the stage, where the damage to pancreas has become permanent and irreversible. There is a severe form of pancreatitis called Acute Hemorrhagic Pancreatitis.
Connection Between High Lipase Levels and Pancreatitis
The disruption of pancreatic function causes as much as three times more secretion of lipase and amylase in the blood stream. That's why, high levels of lipase are observed. So blood testing for these levels is an important diagnostic tool in confirming pancreatitis. Though pancreatitis causes high levels of lipase, there are other causes of it too.
What is the Normal Lipase Level?
Normal levels of lipase are in the range of 0 to 160 units per liter. The lipase test is carried out along with amylase test as pancreatitis can cause a high level of amylase in blood too. The high lipase levels are over 160 units per liter. Alcoholics and people affected by gallstones are the ones most prone to pancreatitis. It's important that people suffering from this disease follow a special diet plan.
So alcoholics should get the blood test for lipase and amylase levels done, once in a while to be on the safer side. It is better if one is aware of early symptoms and causes of pancreatitis, as that may save you from a lot of pain and avoid surgery.