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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, also called adrenaline; norepinephrine; and dopamine.

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

Three rare tumors can also affect catecholamine levels. The tumor types called pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma are not cancer. They cause high blood pressure that generally goes away if the tumor is taken out. Pheochromocytomas occur in less than 0.2 percent of people with high blood pressure. Neuroblastoma tumors, which are cancer, almost always appear in childhood.

Why do I need this test?

You may need this test to help your doctor 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 doctor suspects 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 abdomen (belly)

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your doctor may also order a urine test to check your catecholamine levels. Your doctor may also order a CT or MRI scan to find the suspected tumor.

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

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 requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your arm.

Does this test pose any risks?

Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection, bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore.

What might affect my test results?

Physical and emotional stress can affect your results, as can your diet. Certain medications can also affect your results.

How do I get ready for this test?

Try to avoid rigorous exercise and stressful situations before your test. Also, be sure your doctor 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.