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General Medical Questions
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Question : My doctor told me that I have high level of pancreas enzymes. What does this mean? What complications can it cause?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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September 11, 2012
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A:

A high level of pancreas enzymes may mean inflammation and ongoing damage of your pancreas. Or it may mean nothing at all.

The pancreas is a digestive organ that sits in the upper left side of your abdomen. The pancreas makes digestive juices that flow into the intestine. The juices contain special proteins known as enzymes. Under normal circumstances, small amounts of these enzymes can be measured in the blood.

However, blood levels of pancreas enzymes can soar if the pancreas becomes injured, blocked or inflamed. If doctors suspect a pancreas problem such as pancreatitis, they often measure the blood levels of two enzymes made by the pancreas. They are amylase and lipase.

Still, some people have high blood levels of these enzymes even though there’s nothing wrong with their pancreas. For example, the enzyme amylase is also made by the intestine and the salivary glands in the mouth. Some people with intestinal problems or with inflammation of the salivary glands will show high blood levels of amylase.

Other people will have high levels of amylase for no clear reason at all. This is called hyperamylasemia.

Compared to amylase, elevated levels of lipase are more likely to indicate a problem with the pancreas. That’s because lipase doesn’t seem to be made by other organs. However, minor increases in lipase levels may be seen in people who are perfectly healthy.

The bottom line: Elevated blood levels of pancreas enzymes are only meaningful if they go along with abdominal pain or other symptoms suggestive of a pancreas problem.

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