What adrenaline does in the body

What adrenaline does in the body

Like noradrenaline, which has a similar effect, adrenaline (epinephrine) is a hormone known as the stress hormone. It is formed in stressful situations in the adrenal glands and released into the blood. Adrenaline has numerous effects on the body and is also used in medicine. What are they exactly, when is adrenaline used medically, what do the adrenaline values ​​mean, and what can be the causes of a permanently high adrenaline level?

What is adrenaline?

Adrenaline is a hormone and belongs to the group of catecholamines. The effect of adrenaline on the organism was of particular importance to our ancestors. Because the release of adrenaline enables the body to quickly access energy reserves to be able to flee quickly or fight. However, adrenaline is also formed during psychological stress to quickly adapt the cardiovascular system and metabolism to the respective situation.

The release of adrenaline causes our blood pressure and heart rate while simultaneously expanding the bronchi and increasing blood sugar levels. The latter is because glycogen reserves in the liver are broken down, and glucose enters the blood. In addition, the release of adrenaline breaks down triglycerides in adipose tissue (lipolysis).

Usually, the adrenaline dissipates quickly; However, if the stress does not subside, adrenaline and noradrenaline are permanently overproduced, which causes long-term damage to the heart and circulatory system.


Adrenaline: effect in medicine

Medicine has long harnessed the effects of adrenaline. An important area of ​​application here is emergency medicine in particular. Adrenaline is often used as a result of circulatory shock or during cardiopulmonary resuscitation. During resuscitation, adrenaline can have a life-saving effect.

The dosage depends on the dosage form; when the adrenaline is given intravenously, it is usually diluted 1:10 with a 0.9 per cent sodium chloride solution. The dosage is higher for an endobronchial application: here, the ratio is 3:10. In any case, the dosage depends on the application. In the case of medication, the package leaflet should be observed.

In addition to resuscitation, adrenaline is used as an additional agent in local anaesthesia to prolong the numbing effect and stop bleeding.

Artificial adrenaline: epinephrine

In addition, adrenaline is often included in nasal sprays due to its vasoconstrictive effect. Adrenaline relaxes the bronchi, which is why it is also used to treat bronchial asthma – these drugs were temporarily no longer permitted due to a CFC law passed in 2002. However, most manufacturers of asthma sprays now use fluorocarbon and powder inhalers as a substitute.

Adrenaline is often listed as epinephrine in medicines, which is why epinephrine is sometimes referred to as artificial adrenaline. Athletes should exercise caution when taking drugs with adrenaline, as the performance-enhancing effect can be considered doping.


Adrenaline: side effects

Overall, the side effects of medication with adrenaline correspond to the effect that the stress hormone is supposed to produce in an extreme situation. However, depending on the dosage and the condition of the person concerned, systematic use can lead to severe and harmful side effects. These include cardiac insufficiency, circulatory disorders in the heart, myocardial infarction and even cardiac arrest.

Other side effects can include reduced magnesium and potassium or high blood sugar levels. Headaches, cramps, nausea and vomiting, and dizziness, on the other hand, are among the more harmless side effects. The average effect of adrenaline on the psyche can also lead to an exaggeration in the form of nervous restlessness, anxiety, hallucinations and even psychosis.

Possible interactions

Not only the side effects but also the interactions with other drugs give cause for caution. The effects and side effects of adrenaline are particularly increased by concomitant use of tricyclic antidepressants, non-selective beta-blockers, alpha-blockers and MAO inhibitors. Interactions can also occur in connection with antihypertensive drugs, antidiabetics and pharmaceuticals.

Interactions with many medications are possible, so medical advice should always be sought.

Adrenaline levels: normal levels

The adrenaline value can be determined in the blood serum or the urine. The blood collection should be preceded by a rest period of at least 20 minutes to keep the result accurate. In addition, no alcohol, nicotine, coffee or tea should be consumed 12 hours before the examination.

The average value for adrenaline is less than 50 picograms per millilitre of blood.

Alternatively, the value can be determined via the urine, which must be collected over 24 hours. In adults, the adrenaline level in the urine should not exceed 20 milligrams daily.


Too much adrenaline: symptoms and causes

If the adrenaline level is permanently elevated, it can be caused by stress, hypoglycemia or high blood pressure. Other possible causes are growth or tumours in the adrenal cortex. These tumours are often benign but, in rare cases, can be malignant.

The following symptoms can indicate that the adrenaline level is too high:

  • Sweat
  • pale skin
  • headache
  • high blood pressure

The symptoms often appear in attacks and can then also be associated with feelings of fear and panic.

Are adrenaline levels too low?

The catecholamines adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine are produced in the adrenal cortex. If the adrenal medulla is damaged, for example, due to alcohol addiction, diabetes mellitus, an operation or a tumour, the production of these hormones can be disrupted. This affects blood pressure. If there is an underproduction, those affected become dizzy, suffer from pain in the heart area, ringing in the ears or headaches. A doctor should clarify suspicion.

Adrenaline Rush: Seeks the adrenaline rush

The increased release of adrenaline is called an adrenaline rush. Athletes, in particular, use the adrenaline rush to achieve top performance. Conversely, sport is essential to reduce adrenaline and balance the hormonal balance because since we move much less than our ancestors, the energy is not converted into kinetic energy sufficiently.

Some people become downright addicted to that rush of adrenaline that gets them on a high. The addiction to the kick drives them to unusual hobbies and sports such as bungee jumping, parachuting, rafting or kite surfing. Some competitive athletes, such as ski jumpers, are also exposed to enormous stress from the adrenaline rush.

Although the physical exertion in ski jumping is limited compared to other sports, the athletes are tense and sometimes afraid. Since adrenaline releases fat reserves to act quickly, a ski jumper can lose two kilos on one tournament day. One of the side effects, however, is that the body becomes severely exhausted.


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