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What Happens During an Adrenaline Rush

Adrenaline is a stress hormone secreted from the adrenal glands on the kidneys. The body goes into fight-or-flight responses in threatening environments when under stress which produces adrenaline. Learn how adrenaline rushes happen and how it impacts the body both positively and negatively.

Role of Adrenaline

The brain communicates to the adrenal glands the need to either fight or flee from a stressful situation. The cause of an adrenaline rush is not always a real physical threat, it could be a perceived threat. Strenuous exercise, heart failure, chronic stress or anxiety are just a few of the ways to trigger an adrenaline rush.

Adrenaline Rush

When a threat is perceived or is really happening, the hypothalamus in the brain signals to the adrenal glands it is time to produce adrenaline or other stress hormones. The adrenal glands produce adrenaline by transforming the amino acid tyrosine into dopamine. Oxygenation of dopamine yields noradrenaline, which is converted into adrenaline. Adrenaline binds to receptors on the heart, arteries, pancreas, liver, muscles and fatty tissue. Binding to receptors inhibits production of insulin which stimulates sugar and fat synthesis used as fuel in fight-or-flight situations.

Negative Impact

An adrenaline rush can have both positive and negative ramifications for a person’s health. The brain is impacted through stress hormones which shrink the hippocampus. Stress hormones stimulate the production of IL-1 beta, a signaling molecule, that creates inflammation in the hippocampus and prevents formation of new neurons. IL-1 beta also binds to sites in the hypothalamus, pituitary, and hippocampus.

Positive Impact

Hyperactivity in the adrenal gland can have detrimental effects on health which mildly increases stress hormones. This can increase production of leptin, a protein that is produced in the body’s white fatty tissue and accelerates growth of cancer cells. The less stress hormones are present, the less leptin produced which can lower the risk of cancerous cell growth.  

Stress Hormones and Memory

Adrenal glands constitute a major site for adrenaline synthesis, adrenergic neurons in the brain stem also produce adrenaline. Stressful situations can accelerate the activity of adrenergic and noradrenergic neurons. This can impact memory. When stress chemicals function as neurotransmitters, the storage of memories is impacted by activation of the amygdala. A single emotionally significant event may suffice for neurons to generate long-lasting networks.

Treatment of adrenaline rushes occur for natural reasons and do not need treatment. If chronic stress, anxiety or panic disorder triggers an excessive secretion of adrenaline, anti-anxiety medication can alleviate symptoms by blocking the trigger. Beta-blockers are also commonly used to prevent a failing hear from going into overdrive.

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