Catecholamines are hormones made by the adrenal glands. These glands are on top of the kidneys. Catecholamines are released into the blood when a person is under physical or emotional stress. The main catecholamines are dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (which used to be called adrenalin).
Catecholamines are more often measured with a urine test than with a blood test.
The procedure is done in the following way:
In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. Afterward, a bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.
You will likely be told not to eat anything (fast) for 10 hours before the test. You may be allowed to drink water during this time.
The accuracy of the test can be affected by certain foods and medicines. Foods that can increase catecholamine levels include:
You should not eat these foods for several days before the test. This is especially true if both blood and urine catecholamines are to be measured.
You should also avoid stressful situations and vigorous exercise. Both can affect the accuracy of the test results.
Medicines and substances that can increase catecholamine measurements include:
Medicines that can decrease catecholamine measurements include:
If you take any of the above medicines, check with your doctor before the blood test about whether you should stop taking your medicine.
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel slight pain or only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
Epinephrine: 0-900 picograms/milliliter (pg/ml)
Norepinephrine: 0-600 pg/ml
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
Higher-than-normal levels of blood catecholamines may suggest:
Additional conditions under which the test may be performed include Shy-Drager syndrome.
Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:
Norepinephrine - blood; Epinephrine - blood; Adrenalin - blood; Dopamine - blood
Young WF Jr. Adrenal medulla, catecholamines, and pheochromocytoma. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 235.
Guber HA, Farag AF, Lo J, Sharp J. Evaluation of endocrine function. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 24.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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