Anyone who’s played sports or had to jump back on a crosswalk as a car sped a little too close has felt the powerful rush of adrenaline coursing through their bodies. It’s the gas pedal in our bodies that lets us speed past our usual limits. What is adrenaline, exactly, and what causes it to spike in tense or unexpected situations?
What Is Adrenaline?
Adrenaline is also known as Epinephrine. It’s a stress hormone that’s produced by your adrenal glands. In tense situations the glands release adrenaline into your bloodstream, which produces an “adrenaline rush” that is part of your fight or flight response (which we talked about in Why Do People Like To Get Scared?). Adrenaline is a natural, healthy physical function; without it, our ancestors may not have had the quick reflexes or stamina needed to escape a sabertooth tiger attack or outpace a sudden rock slide.
What Happens During An Adrenaline Rush?
During an adrenaline rush your muscles use the glycogen stored in your body. Glycogen is the glucose stored in your body that can be converted into energy. The stress hormones use the glycogen to help your muscles maintain powerful, extended contractions. The epinephrine circulating through your bloodstream helps increase your mental concentration. Despite popular belief, adrenaline isn’t a painkiller; however the intense focus that an adrenaline rush brings makes it easier to ignore whatever pain or discomfort you’re feeling in the moment. You may feel stronger and more alert during an adrenaline rush. That is because the adrenaline is making your blood vessels contract so more blood can be directed to your major muscle groups.
A variety of physical symptoms may present themselves during an adrenaline rush. These include:
- Racing heart
- Body shaking
- Fast or rapid breathing
- Shallow breathing
- Dilated pupils
What Can Trigger An Adrenaline Rush?
While feeling threatened or responding to a dangerous situation will often trigger your adrenal glands, there are other things that can initiate a high-stress response:
- Extreme sports
- Roller coasters
- Bicycle riding
- Watching a scary movie or television show
- Taking a test
- Public speaking
- Talking to someone you have a crush on or admire
Certain mental disorders can also trigger adrenaline rushes.
Are Adrenaline Rushes Dangerous?
Too much adrenaline can have lasting effects on your body. If you find yourself entering fight-or-flight mode, that can cause stress symptoms that can lead to:
- Muscle tension
- Weight gain
- Digestive problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Excess adrenaline could lead to Broken Heart Syndrome, in which the small arteries that supply your heart with blood get so narrow and constricted that it decreases blood flow to a dangerous degree. In addition, the adrenaline may end up binding to the heart cells directly, which causes large amounts of calcium to enter those cells. The increased intake of calcium can prevent the heart cells from beating properly. The good news is that this condition is reversible and temporary, but it can be life-threatening if untreated.
Article by Austin Brietta