Pheochromocytoma – Symptoms, Treatment


Pheochromocytoma - Modern HealthMe, Healthline, WebMD
Triad Of Pheochromocytoma ;(Source -Freepik)


Pheochromocytoma is a rare but potentially life-threatening tumor that arises from the adrenal glands. These tumors can lead to severe health complications if not diagnosed and treated promptly.

What is Pheochromocytoma?

It is a type of tumor that develops in the adrenal glands, which are small glands located above each kidney. These tumors originate from the chromaffin cells, responsible for producing catecholamines, including adrenaline and noradrenaline. Pheochromocytomas can cause excessive production of these hormones, leading to various symptoms and complications.

Signs and Symptoms

This tumor often present with a specific set of symptoms known as the “classic triad.” However, the symptoms can vary greatly among individuals.

Classic Triad

  1. Headache: Often severe and pounding.
  2. Sweating: Profuse and unexpected, not related to physical activity.
  3. Palpitations: Rapid, strong, or irregular heartbeats.

Additional Symptoms

  • High blood pressure (hypertension), either persistent or episodic
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath


The exact cause of pheochromocytoma is not always clear. However, certain genetic conditions can increase the risk of developing these tumors. These conditions include:

  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2)
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1
  • Hereditary paraganglioma-pheochromocytoma syndromes

Risk Factors

While the tumor can occur at any age, it most commonly affects adults between the ages of 30 and 50. Other risk factors include:

  • Family history of or related genetic conditions
  • Genetic mutations


Diagnosing pheochromocytoma involves a combination of clinical evaluation, biochemical testing, and imaging studies.

Biochemical Testing

  • Blood and Urine Tests: Measure levels of catecholamines and metanephrines, which are typically elevated in individuals with pheochromocytoma.

Imaging Studies

  • CT Scan: Helps locate the tumor within the adrenal gland.
  • MRI: Provides detailed images and can help distinguish this tumor from other types of tumors.
  • MIBG Scan: A specialized imaging test that can identify the presence of pheochromocytoma.

Treatment of Pheochromocytoma

Treating pheochromocytoma primarily involves surgical intervention, but comprehensive care includes preoperative preparation and intraoperative management. Here’s a detailed look at each step.

Surgical Treatment:

Adrenalectomy :

  • Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy: Minimally invasive surgery to remove the affected adrenal gland, typically preferred due to shorter recovery times and fewer complications.
  • Open Adrenalectomy: Used when the tumor is large or there are complicating factors that make laparoscopic surgery impractical.

Bilateral Adrenalectomy

  • Required if both adrenal glands are affected. This procedure necessitates lifelong hormone replacement therapy as the body will no longer produce essential adrenal hormones.

Preoperative Preparation

Preparing for surgery is crucial to minimize risks and ensure a successful outcome.

Blood Pressure Control

  • Alpha-Blockers: Medications such as phenoxybenzamine are used to control high blood pressure by blocking the effects of catecholamines. The typical starting dose is 10 mg twice daily, which may be gradually increased to 20-40 mg twice or three times daily, depending on the patient’s response.
  • Beta-Blockers: Once adequate alpha-blockade is achieved, beta-blockers like propranolol may be added to control heart rate and prevent palpitations. The usual starting dose is 10 mg three times daily, which can be adjusted based on clinical need.

Volume Expansion

  • Increasing fluid intake and possibly intravenous fluids to expand blood volume, which can be depleted due to prolonged high blood pressure.

Intraoperative Management

Managing the patient’s condition during surgery is vital to prevent complications.

Anesthesia Considerations

  • Close monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Availability of medications to manage sudden spikes in blood pressure.

Tumor Handling

  • Careful manipulation of the tumor to avoid excessive release of catecholamines, which can cause hypertensive crises.

Additional Therapies

In certain cases, additional treatments may be necessary.

Radiation Therapy
  • Applied when surgical removal is not feasible, particularly in malignant pheochromocytomas or if there are metastases.
  • Considered for malignant pheochromocytomas that do not respond to other treatments. Agents like cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and dacarbazine may be used.


Pheochromocytoma, although rare, can have significant health impacts due to the overproduction of catecholamines. Recognizing the signs and symptoms, understanding the risk factors, and seeking prompt medical evaluation are essential steps for effective management.

Read more:

  1. Hypertension or High blood pressure
  2. Health benefits of aparijita

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Modern HealthMe