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Adrenaline vs. Cortisol: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 16, 2023
Adrenaline is a fast-acting stress hormone, triggering the fight-or-flight response; cortisol, a slower-acting hormone, maintains stress response and energy.

Key Differences

Adrenaline, produced by the adrenal glands, rapidly prepares the body for action in high-stress situations, enhancing physical performance and alertness. Cortisol, also from the adrenal glands, regulates a variety of processes including metabolism and immune response, particularly in prolonged stress.
Adrenaline increases heart rate, blood pressure, and energy supplies; cortisol increases blood sugar, aids in metabolism, and suppresses nonessential functions in a crisis.
Adrenaline's role is immediate, preparing the body to face an immediate threat. Cortisol, on the other hand, works over a longer period, managing sustained stress by altering bodily functions.
Prolonged exposure to adrenaline can lead to exhaustion and stress-related wear and tear. Chronic cortisol presence can lead to harmful effects like weight gain, high blood pressure, and weakened immune function.
Adrenaline can cause heightened emotions and anxiety. Cortisol, in the long term, may contribute to conditions like depression and anxiety disorders.

Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Triggers fight-or-flight response
Manages and sustains stress response

Speed of Action


Effect on Heart Rate

No direct effect

Role in Metabolism

Major, increases blood sugar

Long-term Health Impact

Can lead to stress-related issues
Can cause weight gain, weakened immunity

Adrenaline and Cortisol Definitions


Secreted by the adrenal glands, adrenaline is a crucial response to immediate stress.
The adrenaline from his adrenal glands helped him lift the heavy object during the emergency.


Cortisol is crucial for maintaining homeostasis during long-term stress.
His cortisol was managing his body's prolonged stress response after the accident.


A hormone that rapidly prepares the body for action in stressful situations.
The sudden sound of the fire alarm triggered an adrenaline rush in her, making her more alert.


A steroid hormone regulating a wide range of processes, including metabolism and immune response.
Her cortisol levels rose during the exam period, affecting her sleep patterns.


Adrenaline is a key factor in the fight-or-flight response.
Facing the angry dog, his adrenaline kicked in, heightening his senses.


It helps control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation.
The doctor noted that cortisol helps in reducing inflammation in autoimmune diseases.


Adrenaline can also heighten emotional responses.
The movie's suspense scenes boosted her adrenaline, leaving her on the edge of her seat.


Excessive cortisol can lead to health issues like weight gain and high blood pressure.
Her chronic stress resulted in elevated cortisol levels, contributing to her weight gain.


It increases heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels.
His adrenaline surged during the race, pushing him to run faster.


Produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol has a more prolonged impact compared to adrenaline.
Unlike adrenaline, her cortisol levels took longer to return to normal after the stressful event.


See epinephrine.


A steroid hormone, C21H30O5, produced by the adrenal cortex, that regulates carbohydrate metabolism, maintains blood pressure, and is released in response to stress; hydrocortisone.


(hormone) epinephrine, the hormone and neurotransmitter.




Excitement; thrills.


A steroid hormone (C21H30O5) active in carbohydrate and protein metabolism; - called also hydrocortisone. It is used in medicine as an antiinflammatory agent




An adrenal-cortex hormone (trade names Hydrocortone or Cortef) that is active in carbohydrate and protein metabolism


A hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla that acts as a powerful stimulant in reponse to fear or stress; it stimulates autonomic nerve action. It can be obtained as a crystalline substance, C9H13NO3. It is used in medicine as a vasoconstrictor (hemostatic) and cardiac stimulant, also to reduce allergic reactions and to stimulate the heart in cases of cardiac arrest.


A catecholamine secreted by the adrenal medulla in response to stress (trade name Adrenalin); stimulates autonomic nerve action


How does adrenaline affect heart rate?

It rapidly increases heart rate to prepare for immediate action.

Does cortisol affect heart rate directly?

No, cortisol doesn't directly impact heart rate.

What is adrenaline?

A hormone that prepares the body for fight-or-flight response during stress.

Where are both hormones produced?

Both are produced in the adrenal glands.

Can adrenaline lead to health issues?

Yes, prolonged adrenaline exposure can lead to stress-related health problems.

Is adrenaline involved in metabolism?

It plays a minor role in metabolism.

What is cortisol?

A hormone that manages stress response over a longer period and regulates various body processes.

What are the long-term effects of high cortisol?

It can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and weakened immune function.

Does cortisol have a role in immune function?

Yes, it helps regulate and suppress certain functions of the immune system.

How fast does adrenaline act compared to cortisol?

Adrenaline acts rapidly, while cortisol's effects are slower and more prolonged.

What triggers adrenaline release?

Immediate stress or threat triggers adrenaline release.

How does cortisol affect blood sugar?

It increases blood sugar levels for sustained energy.

What psychological effects does adrenaline have?

It can cause heightened emotions and anxiety.

Can cortisol contribute to mental health issues?

Yes, long-term high levels can contribute to depression and anxiety.

Can adrenaline cause fatigue?

Yes, after the initial rush, it can lead to exhaustion.

Can lifestyle changes impact adrenaline and cortisol levels?

Yes, stress management, diet, and exercise can significantly impact these hormone levels.

What causes increased cortisol production?

Prolonged stress or chronic conditions can increase cortisol production.

How does cortisol affect sleep?

High levels can disrupt normal sleep patterns.

Are there medications that affect adrenaline and cortisol levels?

Yes, certain medications can influence the production and effect of both hormones.

Can adrenaline improve physical performance?

Yes, it enhances physical performance and alertness in the short term.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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