What is a catecholamines test?
This test measures levels of catecholamines in your urine or blood.
What are catecholamines?
Catecholamines are a group of hormones your adrenal glands release in response to physical or emotional stress. They include epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and dopamine. After using the hormones, your body eliminates the remaining waste through urine.
Catecholamines enter the bloodstream to trigger your body’s fight or flight response. This natural reaction to stress includes:
- Releasing adrenaline for extra energy.
- Increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Heightening your mental alertness.
- Boosting blood flow to the muscles and brain.
Why would I need a catecholamines test?
Abnormally high levels of catecholamines can be a sign of rare adrenal tumors, such as:
- Neuroblastoma, nerve tissue cancer that typically affects children.
- Paraganglioma, a tumor that’s often noncancerous and affects nerve cells controlling blood pressure.
- Pheochromocytoma, a tumor that causes your body to produce high levels of adrenal hormones.
How would my healthcare provider know whether I need a catecholamines test?
Healthcare providers recommend this test if you’re experiencing adrenal tumor symptoms. It’s also for people with a family history of neuroblastoma, paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma.
In adults, these symptoms may include:
- High blood pressure that doesn’t respond to standard therapies.
- Racing heartbeat (palpitations).
- Severe headaches.
- Tingling sensation in your arms and legs.
In children, adrenal tumor symptoms may include:
- Abnormal lump in the abdomen.
- Bone pain.
- Irregular eye movements.
- Unexplained weight loss.
What does the test involve?
The urine catecholamines test involves collecting all the urine you pass in 24 hours. The blood test uses a single sample of blood.
The catecholamines urine test is the preferred method because the results are more reliable. However, your healthcare provider may recommend a catecholamines blood test if they suspect a pheochromocytoma. In some cases, both a urine and blood test are necessary.
How do I prepare for a catecholamines test?
Careful preparation is essential. Your body’s catecholamine levels are sensitive to physical activity, intense emotions, certain foods and medications. Eliminating as many of these factors as possible before the test improves accuracy.
You should stop exercising a few days before your test. During this time, you should also try staying as calm and relaxed as possible.
Which foods can affect a catecholamines test?
You’ll need to avoid certain foods and beverages, including:
- Caffeinated colas.
- Citrus fruits, like oranges.
- Energy drinks.
- Foods containing vanilla.
Which medications might I need to stop taking?
Do not stop taking medications without talking to your healthcare provider. Drugs that can affect your catecholamines blood or urine test results include:
- Cold and sinus medications.
- Depression medicines (antidepressants).
- Diuretics, such as furosemide, that eliminate excess fluids.
- Vasodilators, like hydralazine, that relax narrow blood vessels.
What about other drugs and substances?
Other drugs and substances can also affect your results. It’s important to stop them in the days leading up to your test. These substances include:
What should I expect if I’m doing the catecholamines urine test?
If your healthcare provider requests this test:
- The lab provides a container for collecting urine.
- Empty your bladder right before beginning the test.
- After that, save all the urine you pass in the container.
- Keep the urine cold, either in your refrigerator or in a cooler on ice.
- After 24 hours of collection, you urinate into the container one last time, then you return the sample to the lab.
How does the catecholamines blood test work?
If a catecholamines blood test is necessary:
- The lab draws a sample of blood using a needle.
- You may be asked to lie down before or during your test. This lowers the risk of stress relating to the blood draw, which can affect the results.
Results and Follow-Up
What do the results of a catecholamines blood or urine test mean?
It’s normal to have some catecholamines in your blood or urine. Low levels aren’t a cause for concern. If catecholamine levels are high, it’s possible you may have a rare adrenal tumor.
However, these results aren’t enough to make a diagnosis. Your healthcare provider may order a repeat test to determine whether the results are accurate. Or, they may move forward with your evaluation by ordering more tests, like a biopsy, to confirm or rule out a tumor.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A catecholamines blood or urine test checks for high hormone levels that could be a sign of rare adrenal tumors. These tumors affect adults and children and include neuroblastoma, paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma. The test is sensitive to slight changes in hormone levels, so following all prep instructions is essential. If you have high catecholamine levels, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a tumor. Your healthcare provider will perform extra testing if necessary to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy