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What to Know About an Adrenaline Rush

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 27, 2021

When your body experiences a great amount of stress from your environment, there is a release of adrenaline. This release helps you focus so you can take on the situation. Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a stress hormone. An adrenaline rush can feel like anxiousness, nervousness, or pure excitement as your body and mind are preparing for an event.

There are certain activities like skydiving and bungee jumping that give you an adrenaline rush. Competitions in athletic sports can also give you this rush of epinephrine. This feeling either excites you or amps up your anxiety for whatever event you’re facing.

What Happens During an Adrenaline Rush

In a stressful situation, you may start to feel different. Your palms may start to sweat. You could be looking for a way out of the situation. Your heart is most likely racing. This is also known as a fight-or-flight experience.

Adrenaline causes these symptoms. This stress hormone is created in the adrenal medulla, which is found in your adrenal glands. As your body responds to stress, adrenaline is made and released quickly. This gives you an adrenaline rush.

When you’re experiencing an adrenaline rush, your muscles are using the glycogen stored in your body. This process helps them maintain strong, extended contractions. An adrenaline rush is meant to keep you focused and ready to go. One misconception is that you don’t feel pain during an adrenaline rush. This is not true. You just may be too distracted by the adrenaline to experience the full extent of pain.

Effects of an Adrenaline Rush

Your body releases adrenaline as a way to protect you. Your body senses you feeling a heightened sense of emotion. Epinephrine is meant to shield your body from something harmful.

The release of adrenaline helps increase your mental concentration. It doesn’t take the pain away, rather it distracts you from the sensation of it. An adrenaline rush can heighten your abilities, making you feel invincible. This process is meant to help you overcome the situation that is causing your extreme stress.

The reason you feel stronger during an adrenaline rush is because of a chemical reaction within you. Adrenaline makes your blood vessels contract to direct your blood to major muscle groups. Adrenaline pumps more blood into your heart and muscles. The effects of adrenaline can last up to an hour after you’ve been removed from the stressful situation.

How an Adrenaline Rush Works

An adrenaline rush works on the quick breakdown of energy in your body. Your body breaks down sugar in your liver. This helps give your body quick, long-lasting energy during a stressful situation.

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When your body releases the stress hormone, epinephrine, it triggers the release of a second molecule. This molecule, cyclic AMP (cAMP), plays a large role in regulating metabolism. The molecule cAMP also acts as an intermediary for certain hormones.

An adrenaline rush is caused by hormonal changes. The excessive release of epinephrine can be harmful for your body. It can also give you a good feeling that causes you to want to seek out another adrenaline rush.

Negative Health Impacts of an Adrenaline Rush

The sudden onset of stress and excess stress hormones released in your body can have negative effects. The physical and emotional stress placed on your body and heart can be damaging to your heart. A condition known as broken-heart syndrome happens when your blood flow is reduced because of intense emotional distress. 

Adrenaline rushes are hard to measure, so the exact negative impacts are not fully understood. However, continuous stress and epinephrine released into your body can have negative impacts. These impacts can include high blood pressure and anxiety. 

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Another negative impact of the adrenaline rush is the feeling of dizziness, light-headedness, and vision change. As your adrenaline rush passes, you may start to feel irritable or unable to stay still.

If your body is getting a lot of epinephrine regularly, your potential for heart damage could increase. Inability to sleep and nervousness are common effects of too much adrenaline.

If you have a pre-existing condition like cardiovascular disease, the added stress of an adrenaline rush can be damaging to your heart.

Whether you're seeking out chances to feel an adrenaline rush or you’re feeling anxious, too much adrenaline can be hard on your body. If stress or panic attacks are common in your day-to-day life, talk to your doctor about ways they can be managed.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Association for the Advancement of Science: “Anatomy of an Adrenaline Rush.”

American Heart Association: “Can you really be scared to death?”

British Heart Foundation: “How adrenaline can be a heart breaker.”

Hormone Health Network: “What is Adrenaline?”

People, Ideas, and Things Journal: “Animal Instincts of the Human Body: A Psychological and Skeletal Muscular Analysis of Adrenaline on the Human Body.”

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