What Happens During an Adrenaline Rush?

What Happens During an Adrenaline Rush?

Adrenaline is also known as epinephrine, a stress hormone secreted from adrenal glands on the kidneys. This helps prepare the body for fight-or-flight in a situation that is threatening. This also happens when the brain communicates to glands a need is there for danger to be averted. The causes may be physical or imagined but strenuous exercise, stress or anxiety can all contribute to a flood of adrenaline in the body.

Adrenaline Rush

When a situation is real or perceived as threatening (or exciting), the hypothalamus in the brain signals to adrenal glands it is time to produce adrenaline and other stress hormones. Adrenal glands produce adrenaline by transforming amino acid called tyrosine into dopamine. Oxygenation of dopamine yields noradrenaline which can be converted into adrenaline. Adrenaline binds on the heart and arteries, adrenaline increases heart rate and respiration also.

Detrimental Effects

As an adrenaline rush can be helpful, it can also be harmful. In people with heart disease, it may weaken the heart muscle, lead to heart failure or a heart attack. It may affect the brain in negative ways. Continuous, heightened levels of stress hormones can lead to a shrinking of the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. Stress hormones stimulate production of IL-1 beta, a cytokine, or molecule which creates inflammation in the hippocampus and prevents formation of new neurons.


Hyperactivity in the adrenal gland can affect health but has positive effects as well. While blood content of leptin normally is directly proportional to amount of fatty tissue in the body, stress hormones may play a role in regulating how much leptin fatty cells produce. The less produced, the slower cancer cells grow.

Stress Hormones and Memory

Adrenal glands constitute a major site for adrenaline synthesis, adrenergic neurons in the brain stem also produce adrenaline. The neurons convert noradrenaline into adrenaline. Stressful situations accelerate activity of the neurons. This effect on memory is seen in storage of memories by activating the amygdala involved in processing negative emotions.


Intermittent adrenaline rushes occurring for natural reasons do not require treatment. If chronic stress, anxiety or panic disorder triggers excessive secretion of adrenaline, anti-anxiety meds, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can alleviate symptoms by blocking the trigger. Beta-blockers, which bind to receptors on the heart, are commonly used to prevent a failing heart from going into overdrive from excessive secretion of stress hormones.

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