Pheochromocytoma is a tumor. It is made up of special adrenal gland cells. The cells secrete hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones help to regulate the heart rate and blood pressure. The cells may secrete excessive amounts of the hormones. This results in periods of:
high blood pressureRapid heartbeat or palpitationsExcessive sweatingSevere headaches
Most of these tumors are benign and grow on the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. Other tumors occur elsewhere in the body.
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In most cases, pheochromocytoma has no known cause. In others, it is caused by a genetic mutation.
Factors that may increase your chances of pheochromocytoma include: A family historyTumors in other glands of the bodyHormonal disorders
Genetic diseases associated with pheochromocytoma include: Von Hippel-Lindau diseaseMultiple endocrine neoplasia, type 2Neurofibromatosis type 1Paraganglioma syndromes
Most people don't have symptoms. In people who have them, symptoms may include: Severe headachesExcessive sweatingFast heart rateSensation of a panic attackBlurred visionNausea, vomiting, constipationPounding heart beatChest painInvoluntary tremblingPain in the lower chest or upper abdomenWarmth, flushingIncreased appetiteWeight lossInsomniaHigh blood pressure, which can be constant or sporadicTingling, burning, or numbness in the legs and feetShortness of breathMuscle weaknessAnxietyUnable to cope with high temperatureAggressive or unusual behavior
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your doctor may need to test your body fluids. This can be done with: Urine testingBlood testingClonidine
Your doctor may need images of your body structures. This can be done with: CT scanUltrasoundMRIMIBG scintiscan, or adrenal medullary imagingPET scan
If the tumor is benign, it is removed. This procedure uses small incisions and special instruments. Sometimes, the adrenal glands are removed as a part of this process.
Prior to surgery, high blood pressure will need to be brought under control using blood pressure lowering medications.
Chemotherapy may be used if the tumor is cancerous and has spread outside of the adrenal glands.
Radiation therapy may also be used to help destroy the tumors if they have spread.
There are no current guidelines to prevent pheochromocytoma.
Altiner S, Dodell G, et al. Pheochromocytoma-Induced Aggression?
Endocr Pract. 2011;29:1-10.
Lenders JW, Eisenhofer G, et al. Phaeochromocytoma.
Mittendorf EA, Evans DB, et al. Pheochromocytoma: advances in genetics, diagnosis, localization and treatment.
Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2007;21:509-525.
Widimsky J Jr. Recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of pheochromacytoma.
Kidney Blood Res. 2006;29:321-326.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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