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Catecholamines - blood

Catecholamines are hormones produced by the adrenal glands, which are found on top of the kidneys. They are released into the blood during times of physical or emotional stress. The major catecholamines are dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (which used to be called adrenalin).

This article discusses the test to check the level of catecholamines in a sample of blood.

Catecholamines are more often measured with a urine test than with a blood test. See: Catecholamines - urine

  • Alternative Names

    Norepinephrine - blood; Epinephrine - blood; Adrenalin - blood; Dopamine - blood

  • How the test is performed

    Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. 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.

    Next, 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.

    Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and 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. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

  • How to prepare for the test

    The accuracy of the test can be affected by certain foods and drugs, as well as physical activity and stress.

    Foods that can increase catecholamine levels include:

    • Coffee
    • Tea
    • Bananas
    • Chocolate
    • Cocoa
    • Citrus fruits
    • Vanilla

    You should avoid these foods for several days prior to the test, particularly if both blood and urine catecholamines are to be measured.

    You should also avoid stressful situations and vigorous exercise, which can both interfere with test results.

    Drugs that can increase catecholamine measurements include:

    • Aminophylline
    • Caffeine
    • Chloral hydrate
    • Clonidine
    • Disulfiram
    • Erythromycin
    • Insulin
    • Levodopa
    • Lithium
    • Methenamine
    • Methyldopa
    • Nicotinic acid (large doses)
    • Nitroglycerin
    • Quinidine
    • Tetracycline

    Drugs that can decrease catecholamine measurements include:

    • Clonidine
    • Disulfiram
    • Guanethidine
    • Imipramine
    • MAO inhibitors
    • Phenothiazines
    • Reserpine
    • Salicylates

    Never stop taking any medication without first talking to your doctor.

  • How the test will feel

    Some people feel discomfort when the needle is inserted. Others may notice only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

  • Why the test is performed

    This test is used to diagnose or rule out a pheochromocytoma or neuroblastoma. It may also be done in patients with those conditions to determine if treatment is working.

  • Normal Values

    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:

    Additional conditions under which the test may be performed include Shy-Drager syndrome.
  • What the risks are

    There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. 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)
  • References

    Young WF Jr. Adrenal medulla, catecholamines, and pheochromocytoma. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 246.

    Ferri FF. Laboratory tests and interpretation of results. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2008: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:section IV.

Review Date: 3/14/2009

Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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