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 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:
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:
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:
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.
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.