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Pancreas Function Tests

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A number of tests are used to diagnose pancreas problems, including the following:

The Pancreas and Blood Tests

Blood tests can evaluate the function of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. Levels of the pancreatic enzymes amylase and lipase can be measured. Blood tests can also check for signs of related conditions, including infection, anemia (low blood count), and dehydration.

Secretin Stimulation Test

Secretin is a hormone made by the small intestine. Secretin stimulates the pancreas to release a fluid that neutralizes stomach acid and aids in digestion. The secretin stimulation test measures the ability of the pancreas to respond to secretin.

This test may be performed to determine the activity of the pancreas in people with diseases that affect the pancreas (for example, cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cancer).

During the test, a health care professional places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the upper part of the small intestine. Secretin is administered by vein and the contents of the duodenal secretions are aspirated (removed with suction) and analyzed over a period of about two hours.

Fecal Elastase Test

The fecal elastase test is another test of pancreas function. The test measures the levels of elastase, an enzyme found in fluids produced by the pancreas. Elastase digests (breaks down) proteins.

In this test, a patient's stool sample is analyzed for the presence of elastase.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan With Contrast Dye

This imaging test can help assess the health of the pancreas. A CT scan can identify complications of pancreatic disease such as fluid around the pancreas, an enclosed infection (abscess), or a collection of tissue, fluid, and pancreatic enzymes (pancreatic pseudocyst).

Abdominal Ultrasound

An abdominal ultrasound can detect gallstones that might block the outflow of fluid from the pancreas. It also can show an abscess or a pancreatic pseudocyst.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

In an ERCP, a health care professional places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the small intestine. Dye is used to help the doctor see the structure of the common bile duct, other bile ducts, and the pancreatic duct on an X-ray. If gallstones are blocking the bile duct, they may also be removed during an ERCP. 

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