A number of tests are used to diagnose pancreas problems, including the following:
Blood tests can check for signs of related conditions, including infection, anemia (low blood count), and dehydration. A tumor marker called CA 19-9 may be checked if pancreatic cancer is suspected.
Secretin Stimulation Test
Secretin is a hormone made by the small intestine. Secretin stimulates the pancreas to release a fluid that neutralizes stomach acid and aids in digestion. The secretin stimulation test measures the ability of the pancreas to respond to secretin.
This test may be performed to determine the activity of the pancreas in people with diseases that affect the pancreas (for example, cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cancer).
During the test, a healthcare professional places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the upper part of the small intestine. Secretin is administered by vein and the contents of the duodenal secretions are aspirated (removed with suction) and analyzed over a period of about two hours.
Fecal Elastase Test
The fecal elastase test is another test of pancreas function. The test measures the levels of elastase, an enzyme found in fluids produced by the pancreas. Elastase digests (breaks down) proteins.
In this test, a patient’s stool sample is analyzed for the presence of elastase.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan With Contrast Dye
This imaging test can help assess the health of the pancreas. A CT scan can identify complications of pancreatic disease such as fluid around the pancreas, an enclosed infection (abscess), or a collection of tissue, fluid, and pancreatic enzymes (pancreatic pseudocyst).
An abdominal ultrasound can detect gallstones that might block the outflow of fluid from the pancreas. It also can show an abscess or a pancreatic pseudocyst.
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
In an ERCP, a healthcare professional places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the small intestine. Dye is used to help the doctor see the structure of the common bile duct, other bile ducts, and the pancreatic duct on an X-ray. If gallstones are blocking the bile duct, they may also be removed during an ERCP.
In this test, a probe attached to a lighted scope is placed down the throat and into the stomach. Sound waves show images of organs in the abdomen. Endoscopic ultrasound may reveal gallstones and can be helpful in diagnosing severe pancreatitis when an invasive test such as ERCP might make the condition worse. A biopsy or sampling of the pancreas may also be possible with this type of ultrasound.
Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
This kind of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to look at the bile ducts and the pancreatic duct.