Lipase or amylase for the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis?

Clin Biochem. 2017 Dec;50(18):1275-1280. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2017.07.003. Epub 2017 Jul 16.


Acute pancreatitis is a rapid onset of inflammation of the pancreas causing mild to severe life threatening conditions [1, 2]. In Canada, acute pancreatitis is the 5th most expensive digestive disease in Canada with a considerable economic burden on the health care system [3]. The diagnosis of acute pancreatitis is usually based on the presence of abdominal pain and elevated levels of serum amylase and/or lipase. Many health care centers use either serum amylase, lipase or both to diagnose acute pancreatitis without considering which one could provide a better diagnostic accuracy. The aim of this review is to investigate whether serum lipase alone is a sufficient biomarker for the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. We have examined various studies looking at the utilization, sensitivity, specificity and cost associated savings of lipase and amylase in the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. When comparing different studies, serum lipase offers a higher sensitivity than serum amylase in diagnosing acute pancreatitis. Lipase also offers a larger diagnostic window than amylase since it is elevated for a longer time, thus allowing it to be a useful diagnostic biomarker in early and late stages of acute pancreatitis. Several recent evidence-based guidelines recommend the use of lipase over amylase. Nevertheless, both lipase and amylase alone lack the ability to determine the severity and etiology of acute pancreatitis. The co-ordering of both tests has shown little to no increase in the diagnostic sensitivity and specificity. Thus, unnecessary testing and laboratory expenditures can be reduced by testing lipase alone.

Keywords: Acute pancreatitis; Amylase; Biomarkers; Diagnostic; Lipase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Amylases / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Lipase / blood*
  • Pancreatitis / blood*
  • Pancreatitis / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatitis / epidemiology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers
  • Lipase
  • Amylases