What is Pheochromocytoma?

A Pheochromocytoma is a type of tumor that grows on the adrenal gland. These particular types of tumors are usually benign, meaning they are not cancerous. However, they can have a serious impact on the activities of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys (one for each kidney) and they are responsible for producing important hormones in the body that control a variety of actions and functions throughout the body.

When a person has a pheochromocytoma, the tumor can cause the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline and norepinephrine than normal. The causes of pheochromocytomas are largely unknown. What is known is that adults in young and middle adulthood (approximately from ages 20 to 50) and that a problem with proper oxygen flow may contribute to the development of such tumors.

What are the Symptoms of Pheochromocytoma?

There are numerous possible symptoms of a pheochromocytoma. One of the most common symptoms is a chronic problem with high blood pressure. In fact, an adrenal gland tumor can cause extremely high blood pressure, to severe or dangerous levels. On top of high blood pressure, a person with a pheochromocytoma may also experience symptoms like profuse sweating and headaches.

Experiencing a racing heart (a condition known as tachycardia) or heart palpitations can also occur. Other symptoms of pheochromocytomas include anxiety, feeling short of breath, chest pain, irritability, tremors, nausea, and heat intolerance. Weight loss and constipation can also occur but are less common signs and symptoms of pheochromocytomas.

How is Pheochromocytoma Treated?

The general course of treatment for a pheochromocytoma is to remove the tumor surgically. This can be a challenging process because the adrenal glands serve such important purposes in the body. If a person still has one healthy, functioning adrenal gland, the surgeon will likely remove the entire adrenal gland with the pheochromocytoma. However, if the other gland has been previously removed, then the doctor may attempt to spare the adrenal gland and remove the tumor only. Medications will likely also be prescribed before surgery to help reduce the person’s blood pressure and ensure the best possible recovery from surgery.

Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
August 28, 2017