An adrenaline rush is one of the body's vital defense mechanisms. A stressful situation will trigger the release of the hormone adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, into the bloodstream.
The production of adrenaline occurs in the adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys. Adrenaline is responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction to a threat, and it triggers specific processes in the body. For example, it might make the body send extra oxygen to the lungs to aid a person to run away.
As well as allowing a quick escape from danger, adrenaline has other effects on the body. These include:
- decreasing the body's ability to feel pain
- increasing strength temporarily
- sharpening mental focus, which will allow a person to think quickly and form a clear plan to escape a potential threat
However, the release of adrenaline into the body may sometimes occur when there is no real threat. The hormone has the same effect on the body whether or not the danger is present.
The release of adrenaline into the body occurs very quickly, usually within a few seconds.
It goes away once the possible threat has disappeared. This speed is what gives an adrenaline rush its name.
Adrenaline triggers the following changes in the body:
- increasing the heart rate, which may lead to a feeling of the heart racing
- redirecting blood toward the muscles, causing a surge in energy or shaking limbs
- relaxing the airways to give the muscles more oxygen, which may cause breathing to become shallow
- increasing the speed at which the brain works to plan an escape route
- widening the pupils to let more light enter the eyes
Side effects may include sweating as a reaction to stress, feeling lightheaded due to changes in blood and oxygen supply, and a change in temperature as a result of the blood redirection.
The effects of adrenaline on the body can last for up to 1 hour after an adrenaline rush.
An adrenaline rush does not always happen when a person is facing a real threat. It may also occur during times of stress, such as an exam or job interview.
Extreme activities, which include riding a rollercoaster or doing a bungee jump, can also trigger an adrenaline rush.
Some people enjoy the feeling of an adrenaline rush. They may choose to do extreme sports or activities to trigger a deliberate release of adrenaline into the body.
During the day, a person may be too busy or distracted to think about sources of stress or worry. Therefore, these thoughts often appear at night as a person is trying to sleep. If the stress is extreme, it may trigger an adrenaline rush.
It is also possible for a dream to trigger a fight-or-flight response.
The primary causes of an adrenaline rush are:
- a threat
Anxiety and stress can cause a more frequent release of adrenaline into the body.
Other causes include the following:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can affect people who have had a traumatic experience, such as combat or sexual assault. People who have PTSD may experience an adrenaline rush when thinking about their stress or trauma from the past.
This is sometimes known as hyperarousal. It can cause concentration problems, a jittery feeling, difficulty sleeping, constant alertness to possible danger, and feelings of irritability.
Sometimes a tumor can cause the body to create too much adrenaline. This can occur when the tumor is on the adrenal glands, called a pheochromocytoma, or in part of the nervous system other than the brain, known as a paraganglioma.
Both of these types of tumor are very rare, but they may cause a person to experience an adrenaline rush at random. This might feel similar to a panic attack.
An adrenaline rush can be an uncomfortable experience. Sometimes it will happen at an inconvenient time.
There are some steps that a person can take to control their body's reaction to a release of adrenaline.
- Slowing one's breathing or breathing into a paper bag can balance the oxygen supply to the body. This can help to reduce feelings of dizziness. It may also help a person to feel calmer and more in control.
- Doing some exercise can help to provide a distraction from the stimulus. Yoga or stretching exercises may also relieve stress and anxiety.
- Getting some fresh air and space can help a person to control an adrenaline rush. Taking a walk around the block or stepping outside may help.
- Choosing and repeating one specific word that is calming can distract from the body's reaction to adrenaline. Picturing a relaxing image is another method that may help to reduce stress.
These techniques can help to calm the body and mind, and they may lessen the immediate effects of an adrenaline rush.
Over time, high levels of adrenaline in the body can cause health problems. These include:
In the short term, an adrenaline rush should have no impact on health.
An adrenaline rush will usually have an underlying cause, such as stress or a tumor on the adrenal glands. People should consider seeing a doctor if they are experiencing frequent adrenaline rushes, as these can have an impact on health in the long term.
If an adrenaline rush occurs as a result of stress or anxiety, a doctor should be able to offer advice or treatment. They may recommend lifestyle changes, medication, or therapy.
Seeking support from others, addressing the underlying cause of stress, sleeping well, and doing regular exercise may all help.