What Is a Lipase Test?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on December 15, 2023
6 min read

A lipase test is a blood test that measures the level of a digestive enzyme called lipase in your blood. It may also be referred to as a serum lipase or LPS.

What is lipase?

Lipase is a type of digestive enzyme that helps your body absorb fats. Your pancreas -- a long, flat organ between your stomach and spine -- makes most of the lipase in your body. Your salivary, or spit, glands and your stomach also make some.

Your blood normally contains some lipase. It may contain more than usual if you have a problem with your pancreas. 

Your doctor may want to find out the level of this protein in your blood to find how your pancreas is doing.

Your doctor will order a lipase test if they think you may have something wrong with your pancreas. Acute pancreatitis, which is sudden, severe inflammation of the pancreas, is the most common problem that a lipase test might be used to diagnose. If you have pancreatitis, you might have these symptoms:

  • Severe pain in your belly that may extend to your chest or back 
  • Belly pain that feels worse after eating
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fat in your stool (poop)
  • A rapid pulse
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Yellowing of your eyes and skin (jaundice) 

A lipase test may be used to monitor your pancreas if you’ve already been diagnosed with acute or chronic (ongoing) pancreatitis. It can find out whether your blood lipase levels are increasing or decreasing. It can also be used to find out whether your treatment is working well.

Sometimes, your doctor will order a lipase test to help monitor or diagnose other conditions, such as:

A lipase test is a simple procedure done in a lab or doctor's office. 

How do I prepare for a lipase test?

You will need to fast, or stop eating or drinking anything but water, for 8 hours before your lipase test. 

Your doctor might tell you to stop taking certain medications before your test because they can interfere with the test results. These include:

  • Birth control pills
  • Opiates, such as codeine and morphine
  • Cholinergic medicines
  • Indomethacin 
  • Thiazide diuretics

As with any type of lab test, there are some things you can do to ensure the test goes smoothly:

  • Follow your doctor's pre-test instructions.
  • Inform your doctor or the lab technician if you were unable to follow any of the instructions -- even minor details are important.
  • Tell your doctor or lab technician if you started taking any new medications or supplements.
  • Stay hydrated to boost blood volume and make drawing blood easier.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you and make you lightheaded.
  • Wear a a short-sleeved shirt or another top that makes it easy to access your arm for the blood draw.
  • Avoid eating just before your test if having your blood drawn makes you nauseous. 

Lipase test procedure

A nurse or lab tech will take a small blood sample. They will likely put a snug band around your upper arm first to help make your veins easier to find. They may ask you to squeeze your hand into a fist.

They will then insert a thin needle into one of your veins. You might feel a small pain or sting. After enough blood goes into a tube, they'll take off the band and then take out the needle. They’ll put a bandage on your skin where the needle went in.

During the test:

  • Try to relax and take deep breaths.
  • Tell your technician if you feel faint or have any other discomfort.
  • Don't look at the needle during your blood draw if it makes you uncomfortable.

Lipase test risks

The risks of getting blood drawn are minor, but you could experience:

  • Slight pain
  • Bruising
  • Mild redness and swelling

Contact your doctor if you:

  • Feel dizzy or faint
  • Have signs of infection such as more intense redness, swelling, pain, warmth, pus, or red streaks at or near the place your blood was drawn

Your doctor will be looking for signs of abnormal lipase levels -- either high or low -- in your blood. The lab will provide your results on a spectrum that includes what are considered normal ranges. 

Normal lipase levels

The normal lipase range is usually 0 to 160 units per liter (U/L), or 0 to 2.67 microkat/L (µkat/L). Normal levels may vary slightly between labs, so you and your doctor will look at the ranges given with your results to figure out how your lipase levels compare. 

High lipase levels

A high level of lipase in the blood is a sign that you may have a condition affecting the pancreas.

It's likely that you have acute pancreatitis if your lipase levels are three to 10 times higher than the highest reference value. 

Elevated levels of lipase in your blood can also be a sign of:

  • Pancreas diseases like a blocked duct or pancreatic cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Peptic ulcer (a sore in your stomach lining)
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach caused by a virus)
  • Intestinal problems, like a blocked intestine
  • Problems with your salivary (spit) glands, such as cancer or infections
  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol use disorder

Low lipase levels

Low lipase levels that are close to 0 could be a sign that the cells in your pancreas are damaged. This can happen when you have a chronic disease that affects your pancreas, such as chronic pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis (an inherited disease in which thick mucus can damage organs). They can also be a sign of pancreatic cancer.

Medications that affect lipase

Lipase levels that aren't in the normal range don't always mean you have a medical condition that you need to worry about. Some medications affect lipase, such as:

  • Birth control pills
  • Codeine
  • Cholesterol medicines
  • Diuretics, or water pills

This is why it's important that you tell your doctor about any medications you take that they didn't prescribe. 

Although doctors consider the lipase test the best one to diagnose acute pancreatitis, your doctor may also order a blood test for amylase, another enzyme that rises when there's a problem with your pancreas.

You may also have a scan -- such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI -- so your doctor can see any physical abnormalities or swelling of your pancreas.

A lipase test looks for abnormal levels of the digestive enzyme lipase in your blood. A lipase level outside the normal range can be a sign of a problem with your pancreas or an underlying health condition. It could also be related to medications you take. Your doctor will look at your test results and do more tests if needed to make a diagnosis and treatment plan.

What is a lipase test for?

A lipase test is a blood test that looks for abnormal levels of the digestive enzyme lipase. It's a simple blood draw that you have in a doctor's office or lab.

What does a high lipase level mean?

High lipase levels are often a sign of pancreatitis. They can also be a sign of other conditions such as chronic kidney disease, pancreatic cancer, peptic ulcers, gallbladder disease, gastroenteritis, intestinal problems, and problems with your salivary glands.

What are the symptoms of high lipase?

If your lipase levels are high, you might have pain in your belly that extends to your chest or back, belly pain that feels worse after eating, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fat in your stool (poop), rapid pulse, unexplained weight loss, yellowing of your eyes and skin (jaundice). 

Can high lipase mean diabetes?

High lipase levels can be a sign of diabetes. Metabolic problems can affect lipase levels, as can diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition in which your body can't make enough insulin. Insulin helps sugar enter cells and provide energy to muscles and other tissues in your body. When there's not enough insulin, your body will begin to use fats for energy, which can cause high levels of substances called ketones in your bloodstream. After a while, this can lead to ketoacidosis. If this happens, you might have symptoms like feeling very thirsty, peeing a lot, feeling nauseous and throwing up, having stomach pain, feeling weak and tired, and being out of breath.