Catecholamines - blood
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.
Norepinephrine - blood; Epinephrine - blood; Adrenalin - blood; Dopamine - blood
How the test is performed
The procedure is done in the following way:
- The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic).
- The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.
- The health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein.
- The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle.
- The elastic band is removed from your arm.
- The needle is removed.
- The puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.
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.
How to prepare for the test
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:
- Citrus fruits
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:
- Calcium channel blockers
- Nicotinic acid (large doses)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Medicines that can decrease catecholamine measurements include:
- MAO inhibitors
If you take any of the above medicines, check with your doctor before the blood test about whether you should stop taking your medicine.
How the test will feel
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.
Why the test is performed
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.
What abnormal results mean
Higher-than-normal levels of blood catecholamines may suggest:
- Acute anxiety
- Ganglioblastoma (very rare)
- Ganglioneuroma (very rare)
- Neuroblastoma (rare)
- Pheochromocytoma (rare)
- Severe stress
Additional conditions under which the test may be performed include Shy-Drager syndrome.
What the risks are
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:
- Excessive bleeding
- Fainting or feeling light-headed
- Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
- Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
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.
Last reviewed 1/26/2013 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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