When you feel stressed, these hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, muscle strength, and mental alertness. They also lower the amount of blood that goes to the skin and intestines. They increase blood going to the major organs, such as the brain, heart, and kidneys. This helps your body prepare for "fight-or-flight" reactions.
Your body breaks down these hormones and passes them into your urine. This test measures how much of these hormones are in your urine over a 24-hour period.
Why It Is Done
A catecholamine test is done to help diagnose a rare tumor in the adrenal glands called a pheochromocytoma.
How To Prepare
You may be asked to avoid certain foods and fluids for 2 to 3 days before the test. They include:
- 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.
Do not use tobacco at all during the 24-hour urine collection.
Be sure to keep warm during the 24 hours. Being cold can raise your catecholamine levels.
Drink plenty of fluids during the 24 hours to avoid dehydration.
Many medicines can change the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the over-the-counter and prescription medicines you take.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about 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?).
How It Is Done
This test is usually done at home. You must collect all the urine you produce in a 24-hour period.
- You start collecting your urine in the morning. When you first get up, empty your bladder. But do not save this urine. Write down the time that you urinated to mark the beginning of your 24-hour collection period.
- For the next 24 hours, collect all your urine. Your doctor or lab will usually provide you with a large container that holds about 1 gal (4 L). The container has a small amount of preservative in it. Urinate into a small, clean container. Then pour the urine into the large container. Don't touch the inside of the container with your fingers.
- Keep the large container in the refrigerator when you aren't using it.
- Empty your bladder for the last time at or just before the end of the 24-hour period. Add this urine to the large container, and record the time.
- Do not get toilet paper, pubic hair, stool (feces), menstrual blood, or other foreign matter in the urine sample.
How It Feels
Taking a 24-hour urine sample does not cause pain.
A 24-hour urine sample doesn't cause any problems.
A test for catecholamines measures the amount of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the urine. The test also usually measures the amounts of vanillylmandelic acid (VMA), metanephrine, and normetanephrine.
These numbers are just a guide. The range for "normal" varies from lab to lab. Your lab may have a different range. Your lab report should show what range your lab uses for "normal." Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. So a number that is outside the normal range here may still be normal for you.
Less than 20 mcg or less than 109 nmol
15-80 mcg or 89-473 nmol
65-400 mcg or 420-2612 nmol
105-354 mcg or 573-1933 nmol
74-297 mcg or 375-1506 nmol
|Vanillylmandelic acid (VMA)||
Less than 9 milligrams (mg) or less than 45 micromoles (mcmol)
Normal urine values vary in children depending on their age.
- High levels of free catecholamines, vanillylmandelic acid (VMA), or metanephrine can mean an adrenal gland tumor or other type of tumor is present.
- Any major stress, such as burns, a whole-body infection (sepsis), illness, surgery, or traumatic injury, can cause high levels.
- Many blood pressure medicines can also cause high levels.
What Affects the Test
You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if you:
- Do physical exercise.
- Have extreme emotional stress.
- Have surgery, injury, or illness.
- Take certain medicines, such as aspirin, nitroglycerin, tricyclic antidepressants, tetracycline, theophylline, or some blood pressure medicines.
- Use nicotine, alcohol, or cocaine.
- Take cough, cold, or sinus medicines.
- Eat or drink foods with caffeine.
What To Think About
- The 24-hour urine test is better than a blood test for finding high levels of catecholamines. To learn more about a catecholamine blood test, see the topic Catecholamines in Blood.
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerAlan C. Dalkin, MD - Endocrinology
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015