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Catecholamines in Urine

A test for catecholamines measures the amount of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, metanephrine, and dopamine in the urine. These catecholamines are made by nerve tissue camera.gif, the brain, and the adrenal glands. Catecholamines help the body respond to stress or fright and prepare the body for "fight-or-flight" reactions.

The adrenal glands camera.gif make large amounts of catecholamines as a reaction to stress. The main catecholamines are epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and dopamine. They break down into vanillylmandelic acid (VMA), metanephrine, and normetanephrine, which are passed in the urine. The amounts of VMA, metanephrine, and normetanephrine also are usually measured during a catecholamine test.

Catecholamines increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, muscle strength, and mental alertness. They also lower the amount of blood going to the skin and intestines and increase blood going to the major organs, such as the brain, heart, and kidneys.

Certain rare tumors (such as a pheochromocytoma) can increase the amount of catecholamines in the blood and urine. The increased amount can cause high blood pressure, excessive sweating, headaches, fast heartbeats (palpitations), and tremors.

Why It Is Done

A catecholamine test is done to help diagnose a tumor in the adrenal glands called a pheochromocytoma.

How To Prepare

You may be asked to avoid the following foods and fluids for 2 to 3 days before having this test:

  • Caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate
  • Amines. These are found in bananas, walnuts, avocados, fava beans, cheese, beer, and red wine.
  • Any foods or fluids with vanilla
  • Licorice
  • Aspirin

Do not use tobacco at all during the 24-hour urine collection.

Be sure to keep warm during the 24-hour urine test because being cold can increase your catecholamine levels.

Drink plenty of fluids during the 24-hour time period to avoid dehydration.

Many medicines may change the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the nonprescription and prescription medicines you take.

Your doctor may ask you to stop certain medicines, such as blood pressure medicines, before the test. Do not take cold or allergy remedies, including aspirin, or nonprescription diet pills for 2 weeks before the test.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 20, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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