Catecholamines – Levels & Tests

These hormones are released in response to physical or emotional stress.

Catecholamines are hormones produced by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys.

Dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine are the main catecholamines.

Each of these hormones gets broken down into other substances that are eliminated in your urine.

Catecholamines are released into the bloodstream when you're physically or emotionally stressed.

High Catecholamine Levels

High levels of catecholamines may indicate a wide variety of health conditions, including:

  • Acute anxiety
  • Severe stress
  • Certain tumors, both cancerous and noncancerous
  • Baroreflex failure (a rare disorder involving blood pressure changes)
  • Certain enzyme deficiencies
  • Menkes syndrome (a disorder that affects copper levels in the body)
  • Disorders of dopamine metabolism

Normal Catecholamine Levels

The main catecholamines are broken down in the following ways before being eliminated in your urine:

  • Dopamine becomes homovanillic acid
  • Epinephrine becomes metanephrine and vanillylmandelic acid (VMA)
  • Norepinephrine becomes normetanephrine and VMA

A urine test is often given to measure the amounts of the above substances released from the body over a 24-hour period.

Below are the ranges usually considered normal for a 24-hour period. These ranges may be slightly different depending on the laboratory that performs the test:

  • Dopamine: 65 to 400 micrograms (mcg)
  • Epinephrine: 0.5 to 20 mcg
  • Metanephrine: 24 to 96 mcg (but some laboratories give the range as 140 to 785 mcg)
  • Norepinephrine: 15 to 80 mcg
  • Normetanephrine: 75 to 375 mcg
  • Total urine catecholamines: 14 to 110 mcg
  • VMA: 2 to 7 milligrams (mg)

Your doctor will explain what your test results mean.

Testing Catecholamine Levels

If your catecholamine levels need to be tested, then your doctor will most likely recommend a urine test. A blood test can also be done.

Eating or drinking certain foods or beverages can increase catecholamine levels. These items include:

  • Tea, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks
  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate or cocoa
  • Vanilla

Taking certain medications can also affect your catecholamine levels, so if your levels are tested, tell your doctor about all drugs you're taking.

The following drugs can affect your catecholamine levels:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Albuterol
  • Amphetamines
  • Buspirone
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Clonidine
  • Cocaine
  • Cyclobenzaprine
  • Guanethidine
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Phenoxybenzamine
  • Phenothiazines
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Reserpine
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Stress and intense exercise may also affect your test results.

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