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What Is Epinephrine? - Definition, Uses & Side Effects

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  • 0:00 What Is Epinephrine?
  • 0:36 Medical Uses of Epinephrine
  • 1:20 Side Effects of Epinephrine
  • 2:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Epinephrine is commonly known as adrenaline. Your body naturally produces it during times of stress, but it can also be used in medical situations to treat various conditions. Read this lesson to learn about its uses and potential side effects.

What Is Epinephrine?

Have you ever read a news story about a man who miraculously lifted a car off of another person? How was he able to do this? In the heat of the moment, his body produced a burst of epinephrine, allowing him to do such a remarkable feat! Epinephrine is a hormone naturally produced in the medulla of the brain. It is secreted by the adrenal glands during times of stress, and you may have already heard of this fight-or-flight response, which prepares the body for strenuous activity. Intense fear or anger can trigger its release, giving the body a surge of energy.

Medical Uses of Epinephrine

Epinephrine is also used in medicine to treat various conditions because of its tendency to narrow blood vessels and open airways. For example, epinephrine may be injected during cardiac arrest to maximize blood flow through the coronary artery. It can also be administered to someone in anaphylactic shock, to jump start the heart until the person can get more medical attention. Anaphylactic shock is when the heart stops pumping blood normally due to an allergic reaction. Epinephrine can also be used as an immediate treatment for asthma attacks, because it temporarily widens the airway when inhaled. The most common form of personal use is probably the EpiPen, used to treat allergic reactions through an injection.

Side Effects of Epinephrine

As with any drug, there are side effects associated with its use. With injectable epinephrine, these may include sweating, shakiness, tremors, nausea, vomiting, paleness, difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, and feeling nervous or anxious. There may also be soreness around the injection site. In rare cases, more serious side effects, including severely impaired breathing and high blood pressure, may occur. With inhaled epinephrine, side effects might include an odd taste in the mouth, heartburn, a sore throat, difficulty sleeping, and nervousness. More serious side effects include the development of a rash, rapid heartbeat, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

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