Amylase is an enzyme used to digest carbohydrates into simple sugars and is produced by the pancreas and the salivary glands in our mouths. Foods that contain a large amount of starch (potatoes, rice) acquire a slightly sweet taste as they are chewed because of amylase. Typically, low levels of amylase are found in the blood. An abnormal level of amylase in the blood indicates a problem with the pancreas or salivary glands. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is the most common cause and symptoms may include:
- Severe abdominal / back pain
- Nausea / vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Although low levels of amylase in the blood are typical and healthy in human adults, a very low level may indicate certain pancreatic cancers, kidney disease, or toxemia of pregnancy.
A level of amylase in the blood more than four times the normal range is indicative of damage to your pancreas or pancreatitis. Pancreatitis may be acute or chronic, and it can be a symptom of pancreatic or ovarian cancer. In women, ectopic pregnancy (when an egg implants in the fallopian tube) can also be the cause of unusually high levels of amylase. In addition, blockages of the salivary glands, intestines, and bile ducts are known to cause elevated amylase levels.
There are some medications that can elevate amylase levels in the blood, such as: aspirin, some birth control pills, some chemotherapy, and opiates.
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