Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is usually associated with thrillseekers and provides incredible strength during times of crisis. What can be learned from testing epinephrine levels in the urine? Find out what results are considered normal and the effects of having too much or too little epinephrine.

What is Epinephrine?

Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter. It plays an important role in the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response [1].

The effects of epinephrine include increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood flow to the muscles, to name a few. For this reason, it is also used as a medication for several conditions, such as cardiac arrest, serious allergic reactions, and asthma [1, 2, 3, 4].

Epinephrine belongs to a group of neurotransmitters called catecholamines, which also includes norepinephrine and dopamine [5].

The adrenal glands make most of the epinephrine in the body, but small amounts are also produced in other tissues, like some neurons and the kidneys [6].

Epinephrine Urine Test

You can have your epinephrine levels checked by performing a urine test. Doctors will typically check the levels of all your catecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine) in the same test [7].

Diagnosing Rare Tumors

This test is primarily used to help diagnose pheochromocytoma and neuroblastoma, two rare types of cancerous tumors. These tumors affect the adrenal gland, causing it to release too many catecholamines [8, 9].

There are two ways to perform an epinephrine urine test.

In the 24-hour urine test, you must collect all the urine produced over a 24 hour period. This is the test normally used to diagnose tumors [10].

The second method is called a “spot” or “random” urine test. This kind of test uses a single urine sample that is obtained at a specific time [11].

Results for the 24-hour test are reported back as a number in units of mcg/24h (micrograms in a twenty-four-hour period or ug/24h).

The random urine test is reported in units of mcg/g crt (micrograms per gram of creatinine, a waste product used to measure kidney function). These values reflect the amount of epinephrine detected in the urine.

Other Reasons for Testing

Some people believe that epinephrine urine tests can help identify certain adrenal conditions like chronic stress and adrenal fatigue [11].

However, little evidence currently supports testing for this reason. The problem is that epinephrine levels can vary wildly throughout the day, due to different factors like stress, physical activity, and diet [11, 12].

Another issue is that urine tests do not accurately reflect the epinephrine levels in the brain or in other areas of the body. In fact, much of the epinephrine found in the urine is made (and soon after excreted) by the kidneys, making it difficult to apply these results to the rest of the body [11].

Thus, epinephrine urine testing is not very useful outside of diagnosing adrenal tumors.

Normal Levels

Your epinephrine levels will naturally fluctuate throughout the day. Normal ranges can also vary slightly depending on the lab.

For the 24-hour urine test, values below 20 mcg/24h are considered normal [13].

For the random urine test, values below 19 mcg/g crt are considered normal [14].

Your body should have some epinephrine throughout the day, but the optimal lower limit is unknown.

Limitations

The epinephrine urine test is uncommon and typically performed only to check for rare types of tumors. For this reason, few studies have investigated its extended implications. Due to the unclear lower limit, test results are usually considered normal as long as they are below a certain level.

High Epinephrine Levels

Causes

1) Stress

Your epinephrine levels naturally shoot up during stressful moments. This is because your body is hardwired to quickly respond to perceived threats by activating the fight or flight response [15].

This spike in epinephrine increases the heart rate, breathing rate, and blood flow to the muscles, allowing for quick movement. These effects also provide the thrilling rush that adrenaline junkies look for [15].

Both physical and mental stress will trigger this response. For example, being startled and playing sports can both increase epinephrine levels [15, 16, 17].

Chronic stressors, such as job-related stress, can lead to constantly elevated levels of epinephrine. This, in turn, can lead to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes [16, 18, 12].

Any type of stress – physical or mental – can increase your epinephrine. Constant stress keeps your body in fight-or-flight mode, increasing your risk of chronic diseases.

2) Exercise

Epinephrine plays a major role in adapting to exercise. And it makes sense: epinephrine promotes blood flow to the muscles and opens up the airways [19].

During exercise, epinephrine levels can increase by 1.5 to over 20 times! [19].

Some studies show that men experience a greater spike in epinephrine during exercise than women. Age is also a factor; older people release less epinephrine in response to exercise [19].

Exercise duration and intensity affect increases in epinephrine. In general, longer and more intense activity will cause a greater increase in epinephrine levels [19].

Interestingly enough, training experience is a significant factor as well. For example, trained athletes experience greater increases in epinephrine compared to untrained people, even when performing the same exercise [19].

Epinephrine rises to help the body adapt to exercise, more so during long and strenuous bouts of activity.

3) Low Blood Sugar

The body has several ways to prevent blood sugar (glucose) levels from dipping too low. One of these mechanisms is the release of epinephrine into the blood. Epinephrine stimulates glucose production in the liver, while also reducing insulin secretion [20, 21].

In a study of 31 people, low glucose levels triggered epinephrine release in both diabetics and non-diabetics [22].

People with type 1 diabetes are especially dependant on epinephrine release to avoid dangerous drops in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) [12].

Interestingly, patients whose diabetes is better managed (defined as having HbA1c below 10%) have less dramatic increases in epinephrine [22].

Epinephrine may prevent extreme blood sugar drops. If your diabetes is well-managed, your epinephrine shouldn’t spike too much.

4) Low Oxygen Supply

Low oxygen supply, also known as hypoxia, triggers an increase in epinephrine, which opens up the airways and increases breathing rate [23].

A great example of this process takes place during exercise. When a person reaches 30% of their VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use) during exercise, their epinephrine levels start to increase [19].

Another example is in sleep apnea, a condition that interrupts breathing during sleep. A study in 96 children with sleep apnea found that those with more severe breathing symptoms have higher levels of epinephrine in their urine [24].

Other low-oxygen circumstances that can trigger epinephrine release include high altitudes and injuries to the heart, such as heart attacks or heart failure [25, 26].

If your oxygen supplies drop, your epinephrine will rise. This normally happens during intense exercise and at high altitudes, but sleep apnea and heart attacks can also trigger it.

5) Adrenal Gland Tumors

Catecholamine urine tests (including the epinephrine test) are primarily used to help diagnose tumors of the adrenal glands [27, 28].

Pheochromocytoma and neuroblastoma are two rare types of cancerous tumors that cause the adrenal gland to release too much epinephrine. One study found that the average urine epinephrine level in people with pheochromocytoma is about 167 mcg/24h – over 8 times the normal value [27, 28, 29].

However, in these kinds of tumors, the release of catecholamines is not consistent. A urine test may miss a diagnosis if the tumor is not releasing catecholamines near the time of testing [27, 28].

To compensate, doctors test for catecholamine metabolites as well. Tumors constantly make these metabolites, so their levels are consistently elevated [27, 28].

For example, the epinephrine tests can accurately identify pheochromocytoma in about 79% to 91% of the cases. Metanephrine tests (a metabolite of epinephrine) are even more sensitive: they will pick up 96% to 97% of these tumors [27].

The pattern is the same when diagnosing neuroblastoma: the metabolites are better at detecting the disease than the catecholamines [28].

Although epinephrine tests can help diagnose adrenal gland tumors, testing for epinephrine metabolites is more accurate.

6) PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop as a result of any traumatic event, such as a car accident or a war-related experience. Chronic stressors, like childhood neglect or domestic violence, can also lead to PTSD [30].

Research suggests that people affected by PTSD may have elevated catecholamines, including epinephrine [31].

In one study, people with PTSD had average epinephrine urine levels of about 23 mcg/24h, which is only slightly above normal. Nonetheless, the average epinephrine urine levels are much lower in other psychiatric disorders like depression and schizophrenia (13 and 15 ug/24h, respectively) [31].

The PTSD-related rise in epinephrine may be persistent. A 10-year study of 292 people discovered that people who no longer felt PTSD symptoms still had higher epinephrine levels years later. But according to another study, their epinephrine levels are lower than in people who still experience symptoms [32, 33]

Urine epinephrine slightly and persistently increases in some people with PTSD. How it affects PTSD symptoms and recovery is still unclear.
Why Trauma Doesn’t Always Lead to PTSD

Trauma doesn’t always lead to PTSD. According to one study, people who go through severe trauma but don’t develop PTSD have lower-than-normal urine levels of epinephrine [32].

Lower epinephrine may reduce the importance of the traumatic event in the brain, thus preventing PTSD in a subset of people [32].

Let’s dive a bit deeper…

A surge in stress hormones fixates the traumatic experience into long-term memory, forming a sort of memory scar. At the time of trauma, high stress hormones cling to the hippocampus, the brain’s hub for memory and emotions. They tell the brain: “This is important, don’t forget it.” Lacking the signal from stress hormones, the bad memories don’t stick around as much [34, 35].

Researchers are looking into therapies that might help people overcome PTSD by lowering stress hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine [35, 36].

Lower epinephrine levels might prevent against PTSD, but more research is needed.

7) Eclampsia in Pregnancy

Eclampsia is a pregnancy complication whereby the woman experiences seizures due to high blood pressure [37].

Epinephrine levels may increase during eclampsia and worsen the seizures. In one study of 36 pregnant women, those with eclampsia had much higher epinephrine upon hospital admission. Levels returned to normal 6 days after delivery [38, 39].

8) Smoking

Cigarettes can cause several hormones, including epinephrine, to spike just 15 minutes after smoking [40].

Smoking can increase epinephrine levels in the urine by 50%, according to one small study of 15 people [41].

Gender may also be a factor. For instance, in a study of 70 smokers, epinephrine increased more in men than in women [42].

9) Coffee

Drinking too much coffee may raise your epinephrine levels. In a study of 30 people, participants’ blood levels of epinephrine increased by about 260% after drinking coffee. According to another study, urine epinephrine levels follow the rise in blood levels [43, 44].

10) Drugs

A number of common medications can increase epinephrine levels in the urine, including:

  • Corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone [45]
  • Propranolol (Inderal) [46]
  • ADHD medication (dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate/Ritalin) [47, 48, 49]
  • Opioid painkillers [50]
  • Drugs of abuse, especially stimulants such as ecstasy and cocaine [51, 52]

These are only a few examples. Your doctor will advise you on what medications to stop, if any, prior to testing.

Effects

1) Suppresses the Immune System

Stress, both physical and mental, is closely tied to the immune system [53].

The body releases hormones, like epinephrine and cortisol, in response to stressful situations. Among other functions, these stress hormones activate the immune system. They are meant to protect the body from infection and enhance wound healing, in case you get injured [53].

This defense mechanism starts to malfunction if you constantly face stress. Chronic elevations in stress hormones can cause inflammation and weaken the immune system. Stress hormones can reduce the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, the number of lymphocytes, and the production of antibodies [53, 54].

On the other hand, stress increases inflammatory factors like interleukins 6 and 1b (IL-6 and IL-1b) [55].

High stress hormones also reduce the body’s response to vaccines and can reactivate old, dormant viral infections [56, 57].

Epinephrine rises as part of your body’s stress response. It’s meant to protect you from sudden threats but worsens inflammation and immunity if your stress levels are constantly high.

2) May Lead to Heart Disease

Epinephrine causes the heart to pump faster in times of stress. This response is useful because it increases blood flow to the brain and muscles and allows for quick action [16].

However, constantly elevated levels of epinephrine may strain the heart. For example, long-term stress is linked to high blood pressure [16].

Increased levels of catecholamines like epinephrine may lead to stress cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes heart muscle overgrowth and weakness [58].

Chronic stress keeps epinephrine high and burdens your heart, increasing your risk of heart problems in the long run.

3) May Promote Cancer Growth

Stress and chronically elevated epinephrine levels are associated with worse cancer prognosis [59, 60].

One animal study found that rats with more epinephrine have faster leukemia progression [59].

On top of that, epinephrine causes cancer cells to be more resistant to apoptosis (cell death), according to a study on human ovarian cancer cells [60].

High levels of epinephrine can also increase oxidative stress and DNA damage. One cell study found that just 30 minutes of exposure to epinephrine can produce five times more DNA damage compared to unexposed cells. DNA damage can activate tumor-promoting genes and turn healthy cells into cancerous ones [61].

Higher epinephrine levels and chronic stress may damage cells and lower cancer defense in the body.

Ways to Decrease Epinephrine

1) De-stress

It’s normal for your body to experience spikes in epinephrine throughout the day, depending on your activity [16].

However, long-term elevations of epinephrine can have harmful effects on health. The most common culprit behind chronically-high epinephrine is stress [16].

Finding ways to de-stress may help keep epinephrine, along with other stress hormones like cortisol, under control [16].

Relaxing activities can reduce stress and prevent the release of stress hormones. Proven stress-busting activities include meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, and listening to pleasant music [62, 63, 64, 65, 66].

Even just taking a break can help. A study of 55 people found that stressed caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients have their epinephrine levels drop after taking 2-weeks off at home [67].

Lower your epinephrine by finding more time to relax and wind down on a daily basis.

2) Antioxidants

Too much epinephrine may increase oxidative stress, damage DNA, and increase the risk of chronic diseases and cancer [68].

Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants may prevent these harmful effects. For instance, dry olive leaf extract protected against the DNA damage caused by epinephrine in one cell-based study [68].

Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, may provide similar benefits. In a rat study, tomato extract prevented damage to the heart caused by epinephrine [69].

3) Stop Smoking

Cigarette smoking can cause large increases of epinephrine in the urine. Quitting the habit can be a good way to improve epinephrine levels [41].

A small study of 17 cigarette smokers found that epinephrine levels drop after just one day of quitting [70]

4) Drink Less Coffee

As mentioned previously, epinephrine levels can skyrocket after drinking coffee. If you’re concerned about high epinephrine, it’s probably a good idea to cut back on your caffeine consumption [43, 44].

5) EGCG

EGCG is an antioxidant compound found in green tea with many reported health benefits. One study found that EGCG counteracts the epinephrine elevation caused by caffeine [71].

6) Taurine

Taurine, a common ingredient in energy drinks, may also lower epinephrine. In a small study of 19 people, 6 g of a taurine supplement each day significantly lowered epinephrine levels. We recommend avoiding energy drinks and choosing a quality taurine supplement [72, 73].

Low Epinephrine Levels

Causes

1) Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is caused by damage to the adrenal glands, leaving them unable to produce enough hormones. This condition leads to reduced levels of many hormones, including epinephrine. Symptoms may include tiredness, muscle weakness, and darkening of the skin [74].

In a study of 19 people, the patients with Addison’s had, on average, less than half the epinephrine of those without the condition [75].

2) ACTH Deficiency

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) deficiency is another condition that prevents the adrenal glands from making sufficient amounts of epinephrine and other hormones. This can lead to symptoms like tiredness, muscle pain, and weight loss [76].

ACTH is normally responsible for stimulating the adrenal glands to release hormones. In ACTH deficiency, a dysfunctional pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough ACTH [76].

A study of 43 kids found that children with ACTH deficiency have only 10-20% of normal epinephrine levels. In another study, adults with ACTH deficiency also had much lower epinephrine levels in their urine [77, 45].

3) Dopamine Beta‐hydroxylase Deficiency

Dopamine beta-hydroxylase deficiency is a very rare genetic disorder that leaves a person unable to produce any epinephrine or norepinephrine [78].

The condition is caused by mutations in the DBH gene and can lead to a variety of symptoms, including low blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, and drooping eyelids [78].

4) Kidney Dysfunction

Damage to the kidneys may affect the urine level of epinephrine.

One study investigated catecholamine levels in patients with kidney damage due to diabetes. They found that these patients also had significantly lower levels of epinephrine in the urine [79].

5) Metabolic Syndrome

A person is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome when they have some combination of obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol [80].

In a study of 577 people, those with metabolic syndrome had lower epinephrine in the urine. Those with more severe symptoms of metabolic syndrome had the lowest levels of epinephrine [81].

6) Alzheimer’s Disease

Damage to the hippocampus area of the brain is one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This area of the brain also helps control levels of catecholamines in the body [82].

People with Alzheimer’s-related dementia have lower levels of epinephrine, according to one study of 115 patients [82].

7) Parkinson’s Disease Medication

Parkinson’s disease involves the destruction of dopamine neurons in certain parts of the brain. Other catecholamines, like epinephrine, may also be altered [83].

An older study observed that 83 people with Parkinson’s disease had higher epinephrine levels in the urine. However, epinephrine rose only in people in their 50s and 60s. Once given dopamine (levodopa) medication, their levels dropped [83].

Other studies confirmed levodopa lowers epinephrine in the urine, but they failed to find epinephrine changes in untreated patients. Thus, Parkinson’s disease likely doesn’t impact epinephrine but levodopa does [84].

Parkison’s disease medication may slightly lower epinephrine in the urine, though the evidence is weak.

Effects

The health effects of chronically low epinephrine levels are not well understood. The body generally does a good job of producing epinephrine when needed, and it’s uncommon to have low levels.

The main causes of low epinephrine levels are problems with the adrenal and pituitary glands or genetic disorders, all of which are fairly rare. These diseases often cause deficiencies in other hormones, such as norepinephrine and cortisol, as well [74, 76, 78].

Some symptoms of conditions associated with low epinephrine include [74, 78]:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty exercising

The effects of low epinephrine can also be seen in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex condition that can limit the amount of epinephrine that is released during exercise. This lack of epinephrine may worsen symptoms, such as tiredness, difficulty thinking, and muscle pain [85, 86].

Ways to Increase Epinephrine

The body naturally releases epinephrine in response to stressful situations: for example, when facing a physical threat, when startled, or when dealing with chronic stress [16].

As long as you don’t have some kind of adrenal disorder, you likely don’t have to worry about increasing your epinephrine levels – your body does all the work [16].

But you can help out by making sure to include phenylalanine and tyrosine-containing foods in your diet. Your body uses these amino acids to make epinephrine and other catecholamines [87].

Some foods that are rich in phenylalanine and tyrosine include [87, 88, 89]:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts

Caffeine also causes epinephrine levels to rise. One study found that coffee elevates epinephrine levels in the urine by 32% [90].

But be careful: epinephrine elevates blood pressure, and caffeine amplifies this effect [90].

Irregular Levels?

LabTestAnalyzer helps you make sense of your lab results and track them over time. It marks all your problematic labs and tells you how to get into the optimal range naturally. No need to do thousands of hours of research to understand your test results.

LabTestAnalyzer is a sister company of SelfHacked. The proceeds from your purchase of this product are reinvested into our research and development, in order to serve you better. Thanks for your support.

Takeaway

The epinephrine urine test mainly helps doctors diagnose rare tumors that affect the adrenal glands.

For everyone else, stress is the most common cause of elevated epinephrine. Constantly high levels of stress hormones, including epinephrine, negatively impact your immune system and heart.

Find ways to de-stress if you’re worried about having high-stress hormones. Good options include meditation, yoga, or just taking breaks from work.

Some antioxidant-rich foods, like tomatoes and olive leaf extract, may also help protect against the negative effects of epinephrine.

About the Author

Mathew Eng, PharmD

PharmD

Mathew received his PharmD from the University of Hawaii and an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Washington.

Mathew is a licensed pharmacist with clinical experience in oncology, infectious disease, and diabetes management. He has a passion for personalized patient care and believes that education is essential to living a healthy life. His goal is to motivate individuals to find ways to manage their chronic conditions.

Click here to subscribe

RATE THIS ARTICLE

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.