Adrenaline: what is it and what does it do?

Adrenalin: Was ist das und was bewirkt es?

Everyone knows the adrenaline rush that you feel when you ride through the ghost train at the fair. You drive through the darkness with your eyes wide open and your heart pounding. But why actually? Quite simply, adrenaline is poured out.

The release of adrenaline changes a lot in your body. Adrenalin puts you in a kind of "fight mode". It is an important messenger and hormone that you should not be missing. In the following we have summarized all relevant information for you in our Adrenalin Health article. Exactly what it is, what it is used for and what it does to you and your body.

the essentials in brief

  • Adrenaline is one of the most important hormones when it comes to stressful situations. It triggers the so-called "fight or flight" reflex and makes you more powerful when it counts. In addition, adrenaline boosts important bodily functions and saves energy by inhibiting less important functions.
  • Adrenaline can save the life of allergy sufferers. Anaphylactic shock can be treated with the help of adrenaline. So it serves as a life-saving emergency drug and often comes in the form of adrenaline pens or epi pens.
  • Adrenaline surpluses or deficiencies can also occur. They often share similar signs and symptoms and should be treated in any case. If left untreated, permanent damage to the cardiovascular system can result.

Background: what is adrenaline?

In order to understand all other aspects of adrenaline, you should first understand what is behind the term. For this reason, we offer you an explanation of terms and further introductory information here.

Adrenaline is known as the body's stress hormone. It is also an important messenger.

Adrenaline is a hormone produced in the adrenal medulla. It is also known by the name epinephrine. So hormone it belongs to the group of catecholamines. You can also find it in the central nervous system, where adrenaline is active as an important neurotransmitter. (3.14)

The effects of adrenaline are transmitted through receptors. These are also called adrenoceptors. The first effective adrenaline active ingredient for medical purposes came onto the market as early as 1919. (2.6)

Adrenaline can also be seen as an antagonist to insulin. While insulin lowers blood sugar levels, the release of adrenaline raises them. So when it comes to carbohydrate metabolism, adrenaline can cause blood sugar levels to rise, and with it blood pressure and heart rate. (10)

Where and how is adrenaline released?

Basically, adrenaline is formed in the adrenal medulla and certain nerve cells. These nerve cells are also called sympathetic ganglia. This is where the hormone is produced and from there it is distributed throughout the body.

It attaches itself to certain receptors via the bloodstream, where it transmits its information and triggers an effect. This procedure is due to the neurotransmitter function of adrenaline. (14.15)

When is adrenaline released?

Adrenaline can be released in different situations. Above all, adrenaline is known as a stress hormone. This means that it is released whenever you are in a stressful situation. Here your body switches to the so-called “Flight or Fight” mode. So he decides, out of stress, is it better to escape or face what is causing the stress. (16)


Adrenaline can also be released during extreme sports. (Image source: Maja Kochanowska / Unsplash)

Stressful situations can look different for everyone. Basically, these are situations in which you are exposed to physical or mental stress. For example running a marathon or sitting in a ghost train. (5)

But there are also other situations in which adrenaline is released. For example, in the case of injuries. In a situation in which you injured yourself, you have probably already noticed that you did not feel any pain at first. This is due to the adrenaline.

The hormone adrenaline is also used in the event of infections or low blood sugar levels. Adrenaline is released especially in cases of extreme hypoglycaemia. This extreme low blood sugar in the body is also called hypoglycemia. (17)

What effect does adrenaline have on the body?

After the release of adrenaline, your heart rate increases, your blood vessels constrict and your bronchi expand. In addition, the hormone adrenaline causes so-called lipolysis. This is the rapid provision of energy through fat loss. In addition, glucose is biosynthesized and released. Adrenaline centralizes blood flow and inhibits the body's digestive activity. (18.20)

The action of adrenaline puts the body in a kind of "fight mode". In addition, some mechanisms in the body are activated when adrenaline is released.

All of these effects are summed up in the “fight or flight” response. Here the body refrains from using energy for “unimportant” functions. In this case it is digestion. In a stressful situation, it is withdrawn. Your body focuses on giving you the best possible reactions. This happens through changed blood circulation and better breathing capacities. (16.20)

What is the difference between adrenaline and noradrenaline?

Both adrenaline and noradrenaline are hormonal neurotransmitters. They are known to most people as stress hormones. (7,8,9)

With the help of adrenaline, your body has additional energy available in stressful situations. Your body increases its alertness in these situations. Norepinephrine also has these properties. It is also known as norepinephrine. It also has an effect on increased blood sugar levels and heart rate. (7,8,9)

Adrenaline and noradrenaline are very similar. They only have small differences.

The biggest difference with norepinephrine is that it also constricts your blood vessels, raising your blood pressure. Norepinephrine is also responsible for transmitting information to your brain. In stressful situations, it transmits information to the brain more quickly. This function then releases more adrenaline. Norepinephrine also influences your sleep-wake cycle and your sexual behavior. (7,8,9)

They are therefore very similar in their tasks and functions. However, they have minor differences. You can say they work “for each other” and support each other's impact.

When is adrenaline administered?

In most cases, adrenaline is treated as a rescue medication. It is therefore only used as an acute treatment method. As an emergency drug, however, it can help in various extreme illness situations.

Ambulance on duty

Adrenaline can help as an emergency drug in allergic shocks. (Image Source: Camilo Jimenez / Unsplash)

For example, adrenaline is used in the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic shock, i.e. a severe immediate allergic reaction. In most cases, administration of adrenaline can alleviate the symptoms of anaphylaxis or even eliminate them altogether. In emergency situations, the adrenaline is injected into the outside of the thigh via an auto-injection. If necessary, this procedure can also be repeated. (11:12)

Adrenaline is also used to treat resuscitation. So in situations where a person goes into cardiac arrest and needs resuscitation. In these cases, adrenaline can be administered.

However, the effect in these cases is often very controversial. Recent studies are supposed to show that adrenaline can serve as a lifesaver, but often at the expense of cerebral blood flow. Patients may have neurological damage after resuscitation with adrenaline. (1.4)

Against which diseases can adrenaline be used?

As already mentioned, adrenaline is used particularly in emergency medicine. But other diseases and symptoms can also be treated with it.

Norepinephrine has been used as a pain reliever for a while. An automatic effect of adrenaline and noradrenaline is to suppress pain in stressful situations. These findings are used to suppress pain in patients.

Adrenaline can also be a tool in combating migraine symptoms. In migraines, three mechanisms are triggered that need to be blocked. On the one hand, with migraines, the blood vessels in the brain dilate, inflammatory cells are also activated and information about feelings of pain is passed on to the brain. (22)

man with headache

Adrenaline can also help against symptoms of migraines and headaches. (Image Source: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels)

Adrenaline can potentially suppress all of these symptoms and therefore offers a suitable method of treating migraines. Adrenaline constricts blood vessels and prevents pain information from being transmitted to the brain. This can lead to the patient recovering better from migraines. (22)

Adrenaline also has the potential to play a role in fighting cancer. It should be noted that adrenaline alone cannot cure cancer. However, it is believed that adrenaline can activate cancer-fighting immune cells. This happens through the release of adrenaline triggered by sport. The activated cancer-fighting immune cells can then travel through the body to where the tumor is growing. (13)

What are the symptoms of too much or too little adrenaline?

Adrenaline not only helps against diseases but can also become a disease itself. This is excessive adrenaline release or not enough adrenaline being released into the body.

A lack or excess of adrenaline can damage the cardiovascular system.

Excessive or too frequent release of adrenaline can damage the cardiovascular system. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels are permanently increased here, which can lead to long-term damage. (21)

The lack of adrenaline can also occur. This is often due to constant stress. You use up your stress reserves, so to speak. Depending on its constitution, every body can withstand stress for a certain period of time, but sooner or later its reserves are used up.

How do you recognize an adrenaline surplus?

An excess of adrenaline often makes itself felt in your cardiovascular system. In this environment are also the symptoms of excessive distribution. You can recognize a permanently elevated adrenaline level by the following symptoms:

  • tachycardia
  • sweats
  • Inner unrest
  • cardiac arrhythmias
  • muscle tremors
  • weight loss
  • low magnesium and potassium levels

In order to counteract such excessive adrenaline releases, you should pay attention to breaks and relaxation . Take your time to calm down and relax. Your health will be better in the long run.

How do you recognize an adrenaline deficiency?

You can determine a lack of adrenaline by the fact that you are constantly under stress. So there are no phases in which you are not "live". If your stress hormone reserves are depleted and you suffer from a deficiency, this can manifest itself in the following symptoms:

  • utter exhaustion
  • Burnout
  • inability to deal with stress
  • chronic fatigue

Due to the lack of adrenaline, you can already feel overwhelmed in everyday stress. It is then important that you eliminate stress factors from your life and consciously concentrate on being stress-free. Exercise and a healthy diet can also help.

What is an adrenaline pen and what is it used for?

An autoinjection is called an adrenaline pen. It is also often called the Epi Pen. This can be traced back to the synonym for adrenaline, epinephrine. (19)

The Epi Pen looks like a thick pen and is easy to use at home. With the help of a small needle tip, the patient can self-administer adrenaline. So it's a kind of pre-filled syringe for people who are at risk of anaphylactic shock. (11,12,19)

doctor with syringe

In emergency situations, adrenaline, especially for people with allergies, can be administered with an injection. (Image Source: RF Studios / Pexels)

Adrenaline pens are therefore only an emergency medication. They are not for daily use. In emergency situations, the epinephrine can be administered to the patient via the Epi Pen. To do this, you prick the outside of your thigh with the needle and administer the adrenaline. (12.19)

An Epi Pen is one of the essential medicines and is therefore available relatively cheaply in Germany if you compare its costs with other countries. An Epi Pen has a shelf life of around 18 to 24 months. There are numerous manufacturers and different drug brands that sell the Epi Pens.


In conclusion, it can be said that adrenaline is an important part of your body. This messenger substance can influence you so strongly that you are more capable of acting and perform better in life-threatening situations.

It also saves lives as an emergency drug for allergic shocks. The use of adrenaline in resuscitation is, however, increasingly controversial. Adrenaline deficiencies and permanent releases can damage the health permanently. Stress is definitely bad for your health. Cardiovascular diseases are often the result. Relaxation and rest are important.


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