Amylase and lipase are digestive enzymes. Amylase breaks down dietary starch, and lipase aids in the digestion of dietary fats. The pancreas produces these enzymes in large quantities and secretes them into the small intestine. Diseases of the pancreas most commonly cause elevated amylase and lipase, although other disorders may lead to abnormally increased blood levels of these enzymes.
Pancreatitis is the medical term for inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes and the blood sugar-regulating hormones, insulin and glucagon. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains that acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and is most often caused by gallstones passing through the common bile duct. The common bile duct and the pancreatic duct join together to transport digestive enzymes and bile to the small intestine. A gallstone in the common bile duct can cause backpressure in the pancreatic duct leading to pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis causes a spike in blood amylase and lipase levels.
Chronic pancreatitis is a persistent inflammation of the pancreas. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, chronic pancreatitis is most frequently due to prolonged, excessive consumption of alcohol. Blood amylase and lipase are typically elevated with chronic pancreatitis.
Pancreatic cancer may cause elevation in blood amylase and lipase due to impingement on the duct system within the pancreas. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 42,500 new cases of pancreatic cancer occurred in the United States in 2009. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include weight loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal or back pain, and voluminous, greasy stools.
A severe blow to the abdomen may cause pancreatic injury and a spike in blood amylase and lipase. In a 2008 research article published in the “Canadian Journal of Surgery,” Drs. K. Al-Ahmadi and N. Ahmed noted the death rate due to pancreatic injury ranges from approximately two to 17 percent.
Intestinal obstruction is a possible cause of elevated blood amylase and lipase. With this condition, partially digested food and fecal material are unable to pass through the intestines. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, tumors, loss of intestinal motility, kinks in the intestine, hernias, and scar tissue may precipitate intestinal obstruction. Amylase and lipase are frequently elevated with this condition due to a backup of digestive fluids in the intestine.
Inflammation of the gallbladder is termed cholecystitis. In most cases, cholecystitis occurs due to gallstones, explains Penn State College of Medicine’s Hershey Medical Center. Cholecystitis may cause elevations in blood amylase and lipase.