Navigate Up

Pediatric Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Z

Print This Page

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.

Alternative Names

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:

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

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:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Albuterol
  • Aminophylline
  • Amphetamines
  • Buspirone
  • Caffeine
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Cocaine
  • Cyclobenzaprine
  • Levodopa
  • Methyldopa
  • Nicotinic acid (large doses)
  • Phenoxybenzamine
  • Phenothiazines
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Reserpine
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Medicines that can decrease catecholamine measurements include:

  • Clonidine
  • Guanethidine
  • 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

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

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. 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: 1/26/2013

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.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com