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Serum amylase and acute pancreatitis
  1. John Butler, Consultant,
  2. Damian Bates, Specialist Registrar
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK;


    A short cut review was carried out to establish whether a normal serum amylase value rules out the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Altogether 191 papers were found using the reported search, of which four presented the best evidence to answer the clinical question. The author, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes, results and study weaknesses of these best papers are tabulated. A clinical bottom line is stated.

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    Report by John Butler, Consultant
 Checked by Damian Bates, Specialist Registrar

    Clinical scenario

    A 44 year old man presents to the emergency department with a four hour history of severe epigastric pain. You consider a diagnosis of pancreatitis and organise a serum amylase to be taken. You wonder whether a single normal serum amylase result is sufficiently sensitive to rule out pancreatitis in this patient.

    Three part question

    In [patients with abdominal pain] does [a normal serum amylase] exclude [the diagnosis of pancreatitis]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966-07/03 and Embase 1980-07/03 using the OVID interface. [({exp Abdominal pain/ OR abdominal} OR {exp Pancreatitis/ OR pancreatitis, acute necrotising/ OR pancreatitis, alcoholic/ OR}) AND {exp Amylases OR amylase$ OR}] AND [exp Sensitivity and Specificity OR ( AND] LIMIT to human AND English.

    Search outcome

    Altogether 191 papers found of which four papers were relevant to the original question (table 4).

    Table 4


    The gold standard for the diagnosis of pancreatitis is considered to be surgical examination at laparotomy or pancreatic histology. Often in practice such information is either unavailable or obtained at postmortem examination. In the absence of a readily available gold standard it becomes necessary to evaluate serum diagnostic markers against radiological methods such as CT. Only two studies used an independent “gold standard” for all patients to compare the diagnostic test under consideration. Despite this weakness all the above studies except one reported sensitivities below 95%, especially in alcohol related pancreatitis cases.


    In patients presenting to the emergency department with acute abdominal pain a normal serum amylase concentration is not sufficiently sensitive to rule out the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis.

    Report by John Butler, Consultant
 Checked by Damian Bates, Specialist Registrar