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Adrenaline: An Overview

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Adrenaline is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands of the kidneys. It can increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, dilate pupils, increase sweating and breathing and inhibit digestion in the stomach and intestines.

The hormone is released in response to exercise or stress as part of the ‘fight or flight response’ to help the person fight or flee in times of danger. Energy is made available for instant use in threatening circumstances and this can prove life preserving.

However, prolonged stress can cause health problems and result in disorders such as immune system depression and infertility.

Adrenaline is also medicinal and is used in a drug formulation under the name epinephrine. Epinephrine is used in various medical situations, including:

Cardiac Arrest
Due to its ability to increase heart rate and blood pressure, it makes an excellent drug for regulating an irregular or arrested heart beat. It also narrows blood vessels which re-directs blood to vital organs and stimulates receptors that open airways, helping the person breathe.

It can be used to treat anaphylaxis caused by adverse drug reactions or food allergies. People with food allergies may carry epi pens with them to self-administer epinephrine in an emergency.

Local Anaesthetics
Epinephrine may also be used in injectable local anaesthetics such as lidocaine because it constricts blood vessels and therefore prolongs the action of anaesthetics.

It can also be used for:

Acute sinusitis
Bronchial asthma
Serum sickness
Fainting due to heart block
Allergic swellings
Inhibition of uterine contractions.

Side-effects of Epinephrine

Side-effects include anxiety, headache, fear and palpitations. These are the same symptoms that can occur when the hormone adrenaline is released in the body.

It can also cause seizures, central nervous system depression and psychological effects such as hallucinations and paranoid schizophrenia. It may cause heart pain in people with heart disease.

It is currently the most effective drug for use in life-threatening situations.


Adrenal Glands, Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health. Web. 29 September 2011.

Specialised Techniques In Advanced Life Support, Practical Procedures. Issue 10 (1999), article 6.

Epi Pen (Adrenaline), How Does it Work? Net Doctor. Web. 29 September 2011. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/medicines/100000940.html

Adrenaline, RxList: The Internet Drug Index. Web. 29 September 2011. http://www.rxlist.com/adrenalin-drug.htm#

Epinephrine (Adrenaline), Nursing Drug Guide. Web. 29 September 2011. http://web.squ.edu.om/med-Lib/MED_CD/E_CDs/Nursing%20Drug%20Guide/mg/epinephrine.htm

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.

She is a mother of five who practised drug-free home birth, delayed cord clamping, full term breast feeding, co-sleeping, home schooling and flexi schooling and is an advocate of raising children on organic food.

Reviewed September 29, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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