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Catecholamines (Blood)

Does this test have other names?

Dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine tests, 

What is this test?

This test measures the levels of catecholamines in your blood. The catecholamine hormones are epinephrine, norepinephrine; and dopamine. Epinephrine is also called adrenalin.

Catecholamines are made in the adrenal glands. They are released when you have physical or emotional stress. These hormones have many functions in the body. These include sending nerve impulses in the brain, narrowing blood vessels, and raising your heart rate. The test can help diagnose certain conditions that affect catecholamine levels.

Three rare tumors can also affect catecholamine levels. They cause high blood pressure that generally goes away if the tumor is taken out. Pheochromocytomas happen in less than 0.2% of people with high blood pressure. About 10% of them are cancer. Neuroblastoma tumors, which are also cancer, almost always appear in childhood.

Why do I need this test?

You may need this test to help your healthcare provider figure out whether you have certain conditions that cause high blood pressure, severe headaches, a fast heartbeat, and sweating.

You may also have this test if your healthcare provider thinks you have a rare tumor that causes high blood pressure.

Your child may have this test if he or she has symptoms of a tumor that affects catecholamine levels. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Bone pain or a limp

  • "Dancing" eye or limb movement

  • Anemia

  • Weight loss

  • An unusual lump, usually in the belly

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your healthcare provider may also order a urine test to check your catecholamine levels. Your provider may also order a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to find the suspected tumor.

You may also need a homovanillic acid or vanillylmandelic acid test for catecholamine metabolites in your blood or urine. These tests can help find out the cause of your symptoms. These substances form when catecholamines break down in the body.

What do my test results mean?

Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

Results are given in milligrams (mg). If the blood sample is taken while you are lying down, normal levels are:

  • Dopamine: less than 87 mg

  • Epinephrine: less than 50 mg

  • Norepinephrine: 110 to 410 mg

If the blood sample is taken while you are sitting up, normal levels are:

  • Dopamine: less than 87 mg

  • Epinephrine: less than 60 mg

  • Norepinephrine: 120 to 680 mg

If you have higher levels of catecholamines in your blood, you may have a pheochromocytoma, paraganglioma, or neuroblastoma tumor.

How is this test done?

The test is done with a blood sample. A needle is used to draw blood from a vein in your arm or hand. 

Does this test pose any risks?

Having a blood test with a needle carries some risks. These include bleeding, infection, bruising, and feeling lightheaded. When the needle pricks your arm or hand, you may feel a slight sting or pain. Afterward, the site may be sore. 

What might affect my test results?

Physical and emotional stress can affect your results. Your diet and certain medicines can also affect your results. Foods that can affect your results include those that have chocolate, caffeine, or other stimulants. You should not eat these foods until you have had the test.

Your test results can also be affected if you are a woman who is menstruating on test day. Be sure to tell the lab technician that you are menstruating.

How do I get ready for this test?

Try to avoid rigorous exercise and stressful situations before your test. Be sure your healthcare provider knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use. 

Medical Reviewers:

  • Greco, Frank, MD
  • Sather, Rita, RN