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A test for catecholamines measures the amount of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the blood. These catecholamines are made by nerve tissue, the brain, and the adrenal glands. Catecholamines help the body respond to stress or fright and prepare the body for "fight-or-flight" reactions.
The adrenal glands make large amounts of catecholamines as a reaction to stress. The main catecholamines are epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and dopamine. They break down into vanillylmandelic acid (VMA), metanephrine, and normetanephrine. Metanephrine and normetanephrine also may be measured during a catecholamine test.
Catecholamines increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, muscle strength, and mental alertness. They also lower the amount of blood going to the skin and intestines and increase blood going to the major organs, such as the brain, heart, and kidneys.
Certain rare tumors (such as a pheochromocytoma) can increase the amount of catecholamines in the blood. This causes high blood pressure, excessive sweating, headaches, fast heartbeats (palpitations), and tremors.
A catecholamine test is done to help diagnose a tumor in the adrenal glands called a pheochromocytoma. Catecholamine levels in the blood can change quickly, so it may be hard to find high values in a single blood sample. But a special compound, metanephrine, may be found in the blood, which may mean a pheochromocytoma is present. Doctors may want to do a urine test that measures catecholamine levels over 24 hours.
You may be asked to avoid the following foods and fluids for 2 to 3 days before having this test:
You may be asked to not eat or drink anything for 10 hours before this test. Do not use tobacco for 4 hours before the blood test.
Many medicines may change the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the nonprescription and prescription medicines you take.
Your doctor may ask you to stop certain medicines, such as blood pressure medicines, before the test. Do not take cold or allergy remedies, including aspirin, or nonprescription diet pills for 2 weeks before the test.
Having a blood sample taken can cause stress. This may increase catecholamine levels. Be sure to keep warm, because being cold can also increase your catecholamine levels. Ask for a blanket if you feel cold.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
The health professional drawing your blood will:
The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.
There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.
A test for catecholamines measures the amount of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the blood. These catecholamines are made by nerve tissue, the brain, and the adrenal glands. The test also may measure the amounts of metanephrine and normetanephrine.
The normal values listed here-called a reference range-are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab, and your lab may have a different range for what's normal. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. This means that a value that falls outside the normal values listed here may still be normal for you or your lab.
Less than 110 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL) or less than 599 picomoles per liter (pmol/L)
Less than 140 pg/mL or less than 762 pmol/L
70-750 pg/mL or 381-4,083 pmol/L
200-1,700 pg/mL or 1,088-9,256 pmol/L
Sitting or lying down:
Less than 30 pg/mL or less than 163 pmol/L
Sitting or lying down:
Less than 0.50 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L)
Less than 0.90 nmol/L
Low levels of catecholamines usually do not indicate a problem.
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
This test is not done very often. The 24-hour urine test is better for finding high levels of catecholamines than a blood test. To learn more about a catecholamine urine test, see the topic Catecholamines in Urine.
CitationsChernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.Other Works ConsultedChernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerAlan C. Dalkin, MD - Endocrinology
Current as ofMay 3, 2017
Current as of: May 3, 2017
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Alan C. Dalkin, MD - Endocrinology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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