Hyperamylasemia, which has been reported in patients with the eating disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia, generally has been thought to result from pancreatitis. To evaluate the mechanisms of hyperamylasemia, we measured amylase, lipase, and isoamylase activity in 17 consecutive patients admitted to the eating disorders unit. Six patients had elevated amylase activity, and 5 of these 6 had isolated increases in salivary isoamylase activity. Six other patients had normal serum total amylase activity but modest elevations in the salivary isoamylase fraction. No patient developed clinical evidence of pancreatitis during hospitalization. Thus, the hyperamylasemia in patients with anorexia and bulimia often is caused by increased salivary-type amylase activity. The appropriate diagnostic test for hyperamylasemia in patients with anorexia or bulimia is the simple measurement of serum lipase or pancreatic isoamylase activity. If these levels are found to be normal, further tests to exclude pancreatitis are unnecessary.