What is adrenaline?
Adrenaline, which helps your body react to threats faster. It makes the heart beat faster, increases blood flow to the brain and muscles, and stimulates the body to produce sugar for fuel. When adrenaline is released suddenly, it's often called an adrenaline rush.
Epinephrine is a hormone released by the adrenal glands and some neurons.
The adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney. They are responsible for producing many hormones, including:
The pituitary gland controls the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are divided into two parts:
- External glands (adrenocortex)
- Internal gland (adrenal medulla)
Internal glands produce adrenaline.
What happens to your body when you experience an adrenaline rush?
An adrenaline rush begins in the brain. When you perceive a dangerous or stressful situation, this message is sent to a part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala plays a role in emotional processing.
If the amygdala senses danger, it sends a signal to another area of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the command center of the brain. It communicates with the rest of the body through the sympathetic nervous system.
The hypothalamus transmits signals via autonomic nerves to the adrenal medulla (the internal gland of the adrenal gland). When the adrenal glands receive a signal, they release adrenaline into the bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, adrenaline:
- Providing energy to your muscles: Adrenaline does this by binding to receptors on liver cells, breaking down larger sugar molecules into smaller, easier-to-use sugars called glucose.
- Makes you breathe faster: It binds to receptors on muscle cells in the lungs.
- Increases heart rate: It stimulates heart cells to beat faster.
- Transports blood to muscles: It triggers vasoconstriction and directs blood to major muscle groups.
- Makes you sweat: It contracts muscle cells beneath the skin's surface to stimulate perspiration.
- Stops insulin production: It binds to receptors in the pancreas to stop the production of insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood.
- The rush of adrenaline gives you the ability to dodge an oncoming car before you have a chance to think.
These changes happen so quickly, you may not even be able to fully process what's happening.
What causes an adrenaline rush?
Although adrenaline has an evolutionary purpose, some people participate in certain activities for the adrenaline rush. Activities that may cause an adrenaline rush include:
- watch horror movies
- cliff jumping
- bungee jump
- Cage diving with sharks
- Zipper lining
- white water rafting
What are the symptoms of an adrenaline rush?
An adrenaline rush is sometimes described as a boost of energy. Other symptoms may include:
- Heart rate too fast
- enhanced senses
- Shortness of breath
- reduced ability to feel pain
- Increase strength and performance
- dilated pupils
- feel nervous or tense
The effects of adrenaline may last up to an hour after the stress or danger has subsided, depending on the intensity of the activated adrenal glands.
Nocturnal Adrenaline Rush
While the fight-or-flight response is useful when avoiding a car accident or fleeing danger, it can be problematic when dealing with everyday stress.
A mind filled with thoughts, anxieties, and worries can also stimulate your body to release adrenaline and other stress-related hormones, such as cortisol.
This is especially true when lying in bed at night. In a quiet, dark room, some people can't stop focusing on stressors, such as conflicts that occurred that day or worrying about what will happen tomorrow.
When your brain perceives this stress, the real danger doesn't actually exist. Therefore, the extra energy you get from the adrenaline rush is useless. This can make you feel restless and irritable, making it harder to fall asleep.
Adrenaline may also be released in response to:
- make loud noise
- bright lights
- high temperature
Watching TV, using your phone or computer, or listening to loud music before bed may cause a nighttime adrenaline rush.
How to control adrenaline
You can learn techniques to combat your body’s stress response. Experiencing some stress is natural and sometimes even good for your health.
But over time, a constant surge of adrenaline can have negative effects on your body. Chronic stress can:
- damage your blood vessels
- increase your blood pressure
- increased risk of heart attack or stroke
- cause anxiety
- cause weight gain
- cause headache
- Cause insomnia
To help control adrenaline, you need to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as your rest and digest system. This is the opposite of the fight or flight response. It helps promote balance and allows your body to rest and repair itself.
Try these tips to engage your parasympathetic nervous system:
- deep breathing exercises
- Yoga or Tai Chi exercises that combine movements with deep breathing
- Talk about stressful situations with friends or family so you are less likely to dwell on them at night; similarly, you can keep a journal to record your feelings or thoughts
- Balanced diet
- exercise regularly
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
- Avoid using mobile phones, bright lights, computers, loud music and TV before going to bed
When to see a doctor
If you suffer from chronic stress or anxiety that prevents you from resting at night, consider talking to a doctor or psychologist. They may recommend different treatment techniques or anti-anxiety medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Medical conditions that lead to overproduction of epinephrine are rare, but possible. They may include:
- Tumors: Adrenal gland tumors can overstimulate the production of adrenaline and cause an adrenaline surge.
- Cushing's syndrome: Cushing's syndrome is a related disorder that causes weight gain and muscle weakness due to long-term exposure to elevated cortisol levels.
- Addison's disease: Some people are at risk for Addison's disease if their adrenal glands don't produce enough hormones.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): For people with PTSD, traumatic memories may increase adrenaline levels after a traumatic event.
If you are experiencing imbalance due to adrenal insufficiency, consider making an appointment with your doctor to begin appropriate treatment.
Frequently asked questions
Here are frequently asked questions about epinephrine.
What does an adrenaline rush feel like?
The adrenaline rush can make your heart beat faster. It can cause nervousness, anxiety, tingling, and tremors.
You may be aware of these feelings. Imagine you are driving and someone swerves in front of you and nearly collides with your car. Hopefully, if you're paying attention, you'll instinctively jerk the steering wheel in the other direction. The feeling you get after avoiding an accident is an adrenaline rush.
How long does the adrenaline rush last?
How long the adrenaline rush lasts depends on the cause. If someone plays a prank on you and jumps out from behind a wall, the adrenaline rush is usually short-lived and wears off within a few minutes.
In crisis situations, the adrenaline rush may last longer, usually up to an hour. Once the threat is gone, the parasympathetic nervous system attempts to return the body to a non-arousal state.
If the sympathetic nervous system is continually activated due to prolonged psychological stress, it may have long-term effects on your immune and inflammatory responses.
What happens if adrenaline is high?
Natural responses to high adrenaline include increased heart rate, breathing, and sweating. If your adrenaline is high, you may not realize you are in pain because the sympathetic nervous system overrides the pain response.
Can adrenaline cause panic attacks?
Panic attacks occur when the fight or flight response is triggered for no apparent reason. They can occur with certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Adrenaline surges are indirectly related to these conditions due to the effects of stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. However, the exact cause of panic attacks is unknown.
Adrenaline rush is a phrase used to describe the rapid release of hormones in the body. When the adrenal glands release adrenaline, the body prepares to protect itself from real or perceived danger.
If the adrenal glands produce adrenaline without the threat of danger, the adrenaline rush has the potential to enhance the sympathetic nervous system and make you anxious.
You can usually self-manage an overactive sympathetic nervous system through deep breathing or other stress-reducing activities. However, some people may require medical intervention to help their adrenal glands return to baseline function.