The clinical value of amylase and lipase measurement for the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis was evaluated in 253 patients presenting with acute abdominal pain. Acute pancreatitis was detected in 32 patients by computed tomography or ultrasound. In the serum samples collected on days 0-1 after the onset of symptoms, lipase was elevated in 100% and amylase in 95%. A 95% sensitivity/specificity was reached at a lipase cutoff near twofold above normal. The receiver-operating characteristics (ROC) showed similar curves for both enzymes, lipase being slightly superior to amylase. The ROC curves from days 2-3 demonstrated a much lower sensitivity/specificity of both enzymes. Lipase, however, was notably superior to amylase: at a sensitivity of 85% the specificity of lipase (amylase) was 82% (68%). In samples from days 4-5 the accuracy of the enzyme assays was even worse; at a sensitivity of 60% the specificity did not increase above 70%. The diagnostic value of simultaneous measurement of amylase and lipase was tested at different cutoffs in two groups: the OR group, in which one of the two parameters had to be elevated, and the AND group, in which both parameters had to be above normal. Combination of both parameters mainly improved the specificity of the assay (from 91 to 98% on days 2-3 and from 93 to 97% on day 4-5) but only when, in the OR group, twofold elevated amylase was combined with lipase. We conclude that the simultaneous determination of serum lipase and amylase marginally improved the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis in patients with acute abdominal pain, however, the sensitivity of the assay with samples collected 4-5 days after onset of the disease remained low.