Lipase is an enzyme produced mainly by the pancreas (an organ located behind the stomach) and secreted into the small intestine, where it helps breaks down fats (lipids) we eat into fatty acids and glycerol. A lipase test measures the amount of lipase in the blood.
Small amounts of lipase are normally present in the blood. However, increased amounts may be released into the blood when the pancreas is injured or the pancreatic duct, the channel that carries enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestine, is blocked.
Why It's Done
The lipase test may be ordered if a doctor suspects pancreatic dysfunction, including pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), gallstones, or a blockage of the pancreatic duct. Symptoms of a pancreatic disorder may include abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, or nausea.
A lipase test also may be used to help monitor kids with cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition in which thick mucus clogs the lungs and pancreas, causing repeated lung infections and problems with nutrient absorption in the small intestines), celiac disease (an autoimmune condition in which the intestine becomes damaged when exposed to wheat and certain other grains in the diet), and inflammatory bowel disease.
Because the lipase test is more accurate when performed after fasting, your child may be asked to stop eating and drinking for 10-12 hours before this blood test. You should also tell your doctor about any medications your child is taking, because certain drugs might alter the test results.
On the day of the test, having your child wear a short-sleeve shirt can make things easier for the technician who will be drawing the blood.
A health professional will usually draw the blood from a vein. For an infant, the blood may be obtained by puncturing the heel with a small needle (lancet). If the blood is being drawn from a vein, the skin surface is cleaned with antiseptic and an elastic band (tourniquet) is placed around the upper arm to apply pressure and cause the veins to swell with blood. A needle is inserted into a vein (usually in the arm inside of the elbow or on the back of the hand) and blood is withdrawn and collected in a vial or syringe.
After the procedure, the elastic band is removed. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed and the area is covered with cotton or a bandage to stop the bleeding. Collecting the blood for the test will only take a few minutes.
Either method (heel or vein withdrawal) of collecting a blood sample is only temporarily uncomfortable and can feel like a quick pinprick. Afterward, there may be some mild bruising, which should go away in a day or so.
Getting the Results
The blood sample will be processed by a machine. The results are commonly available within a day or two.
In general, increased levels may mean lipase is building up in the blood due to pancreatic injury or disease. However, to get a fuller picture of pancreatic function, doctors frequently order a test to measure amylase — another pancreatic enzyme that helps with the breakdown of carbohydrates — along with a lipase test.
The lipase test is considered a safe procedure. However, as with many medical tests, some problems can occur with having blood drawn:
fainting or feeling lightheaded
hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin causing a lump or bruise)
pain associated with multiple punctures to locate a vein
Helping Your Child
Having a blood test is relatively painless. Still, many children are afraid of needles. Explaining the test in terms your child can understand might help ease some of the fear.
Allow your child to ask the technician any questions he or she might have. Tell your child to try to relax and stay still during the procedure, as tensing muscles and moving can make it harder and more painful to draw blood. It also may help if your child looks away when the needle is being inserted into the skin.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the lipase test, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the technician before the procedure.