Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 21 Oct 2018

Lipase, more specifically pancreatic lipase, is an enzyme produced in the pancreas and is responsible for the digestion of fat molecules. It may be raised (hyperlipasemia) in numerous pancreatic, hepatobiliary and other diseases but is most commonly associated with acute pancreatitis.

Physiological basis

Lipases catalyze the reaction of triglycerides into glycerol and fatty acid molecules. Production occurs in the acinar cells of the pancreas, lipase is stored in the zymogen granules before being released via the pancreatic duct and the ampulla into the duodenum where it begins to act on fats 1. Lipases are also produced and found in the stomach, duodenum and salivary glands, albeit in much smaller amounts.

It is also detectable in the serum at roughly 20,000 times less concentration than the pancreas, giving it great clinical use 1. The normal range of lipase varies with age and the analytical technique used in the laboratory, but is somewhere between 8-78 international units per liter (IU/L) 2.


A significant elevation is generally regarded as three times the upper limit of normal 2.

Lipase is the preferred enzyme to measure during acute pancreatitis and is regarded as being superior to amylase as it more sensitive and has a longer half-life 3. Although lipase is useful in diagnosing acute pancreatitis, levels do not correspond to the risk of complications or clinical severity 3.

A normal serum lipase has been described in acute pancreatitis but is extremely rare 4,5

A list of causes of elevation (hyperlipasemia) is provided below 6:

Significant elevation
Pancreatic conditions
Intra-abdominal non-pancreatic conditions
Reduced clearance
  • macrolipasemia (essentially a very large lipase molecule)
  • renal impairment (either acute or chronic)
Other conditions
Decreased pancreatic lipase
  • chronic pancreatitis 7
  • isolated genetic deficiency (very rare)

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