A pheochromocytoma is a tumor that grows on the adrenal glands. These glands sit on top of the kidneys and make hormones. A pheochromocytomas are made up of special adrenal gland cells. The cells send out hormones that effect heart rate and blood pressure. The cells may send out too much of the hormones causing periods of:
Most of these tumors are not cancer.
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Most pheochromocytoma have no known cause. Some may have a change in their genes that can cause this type of tumor.
The risk of pheochromocytoma may be higher in those with:
- A family history of pheochromocytoma
- Tumors in other glands of the body
- Hormonal disorders
Genetic diseases that have an increased risk of pheochromocytoma include:
Pheochromocytoma will not cause symptoms in many people. Those that have symptoms may have:
- High blood pressure, which can be constant or sporadic
- Severe headaches
- Excessive sweating
- Warmth, flushing
- Fast heart rate and pounding heart beat
- Sensation of a panic attack
- Blurred vision
- Nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea
- Chest pain
- Involuntary trembling
- Pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Tingling, burning, or numbness in the legs and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness
- Unable to cope with high temperature
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.
Urine and blood will be done to look for metanephrines. It is left after the breakdown of adrenal hormones. A clonidine
suppression test may be done if first tests are not clear.
Images may be taken to look for the tumor. It may be done with:
Removing the tumor will stop the symptoms. It may be removed with a surgery called laparoscopic
adrenalectomy. The adrenal glands may need to be removed.
Medicine will help to balance blood pressure before surgery.
Chemotherapy or radiation may be needed if the tumor is cancer.
There are no steps to prevent pheochromocytoma.
Pheochromocytoma. National Organization of Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/pheochromocytoma/. Published 2008. Accessed September 25, 2020.
Pheochromocytoma (adrenaline-producing adrenal tumor). The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons website. Available at: http://endocrinediseases.org/adrenal/pheochromocytoma.shtml. Accessed September 25, 2020.
Pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pheochromocytoma-and-paraganglioma. Accessed September 25, 2020.
Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pheochromocytoma/patient/pheochromocytoma-treatment-pdq. Accessed September 25, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 9/25/2020