The serum amylase concentration reflects the balance between the rates of amylase entry into and removal from the blood. Hyperamylasemia can result either from an increased rate of entry of amylase into the circulation and/or a decreased metabolic clearance of this enzyme. The pancreas and salivary glands have amylase concentrations that are several orders of magnitude greater than that of any other normal tissue, and these two organs probably account for almost all of the serum amylase activity in normal persons. A variety of techniques are now available to distinguish pancreatic from salivary-type isoamylase. Pancreatic hyperamylasemia results from an insult to the pancreas, ranging from trivial (cannulation of the pancreatic duct) to severe (pancreatitis). In addition, loss of bowel integrity (infarction or perforation) causes pancreatic hyperamylasemia due to absorption of amylase from the intestinal lumen. Hyperamylasemia due to salivary-type isoamylase is observed in conditions involving the salivary glands. In addition, this type of hyperamylasemia occurs in conditions in which there is no clinical evidence of salivary gland disease, such as chronic alcoholism, postoperative states (particularly postcoronary bypass), lactic acidosis, anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and malignant neoplasms that secrete amylase. Hyperamylasemia can also result from decreased metabolic clearance of amylase due to renal failure or macroamylasemia (a condition in which an abnormally high-molecular-weight amylase is present in the serum). Patients with abdominal pain and a markedly elevated serum amylase (more than three times the upper limit of normal) usually have acute pancreatitis, and additional serum enzyme testing is not helpful. Patients with smaller elevations of serum amylase often have conditions other than pancreatitis, and measurement of a serum enzyme more specific for the pancreas (pancreatitic isoamylase, lipase or trypsin) is frequently of diagnostic value in such patients.