By use of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay we established serum reference values of carboxylic ester hydrolase, a pancreatic secretory lipolytic enzyme, and explored to see if a raised serum level is indicative of acute pancreatitis. Postoperative elevation of carboxylic ester hydrolase was observed in seven out of ten patients who underwent pancreatic surgery. Serum levels of carboxylic ester hydrolase and amylase were determined in 129 patients admitted due to abdominal emergency conditions. Amylase was elevated in 27 patients, and in 20 of these raised carboxylic ester hydrolase levels affirmed the diagnosis acute pancreatitis. In five out of the seven patients with elevated amylase alone no etiologic factor of acute pancreatitis was found. Another 11 patients had raised carboxylic ester hydrolase levels without concomitant elevation of amylase. In all these patients, a likely cause of pancreatic inflammation was identifiable. Hence, a raised carboxylic ester hydrolase level, even in presence of normal amylase, could be indicative of acute pancreatic inflammation.