Pheochromocytoma Symptoms: Knowing Your Enemy

Understanding Pheochromocytoma


Pheochromocytoma ˌfē-ə-ˌkrō-mə-sə-ˈtō-mə, -sī- is a tumor that develops at the central part of the adrenal gland, known as the adrenal medulla. The adrenal glands are positioned on top of the kidneys. These are responsible for the production of the hormones, cortisol and epinephrine, in response to stress. (Cortisol allows the body to break down fats, protein, and carbohydrates for huge amounts of extra energy. Epinephrine is more commonly known as adrenaline. This hormone elevates blood pressure and heart rate to help distribute the extra energy quicker and more effectively to where these are needed most. In addition, it widens air passages to allow the body to take in more air.)


Pheochromocytoma is listed under “rare disease” by the Office of Rare Diseases (ORD) under the National Institute of Health (NIH). The disease and its subtype inflict less than 200,000 individuals in the United States (Source: NIH). It can develop at any age range, but it is most common in middle-aged individuals.


Although approximately, only 10% of these uncommon tumors are cancerous, it may still be life threatening if unidentified and untreated. Knowing the Pheochromocytoma symptoms is one of the best ways towards fighting the disease.


Signs and Symptoms of Pheochromocytoma


The tumors, because of where these are located, can cause the adrenal glands to produce an excessive amount of hormones. Therefore, the typical Pheochromocytoma symptoms are heightened stress responses. The following usually occur together when one has Pheochromocytoma:

  • ·         high blood pressure (which is sometimes irregular, making it hard to detect)
  • ·         palpitations or having temporary rapid heartbeats
  • ·         excessive sweating
  • ·         headaches


However, symptoms may also include the following (which are not necessarily related to responses to stress):

  • Lower back pain because of the location of the glands
  • Dizziness due to orthostatic hypotension, or the brief decrease in blood pressure when one suddenly stands up, especially from a crouching position
  • Anxiety that is often similar to a panic attack
  • Pallor or paleness of the skin
  • Weight loss because of the increased breakdown of fats for energy
  • Increased sugar level in the blood (for extra energy)
  • Having tiny localized protein mass (amyloid) deposits


Aside from the typical high blood pressure, Pheochromocytoma symptoms can be very serious and may be in the form of resistant arterial hypertension (high blood pressure that is unmanageable by medicine), and malignant hypertension. The latter is a type of hypertension with extremely elevated blood pressure and organ damage such as in the eyes, brain, or heart. Having this type is considered as a hypertensive emergency where the systolic and diastolic blood pressures are frequently higher than 200mmHg and 140mmHg, respectively.


Other Things that can Cause Pheochromocytoma-like Symptoms


Having hypertension and some headaches does not automatically mean one has developed Pheochomocytomas. The same symptoms may also be caused by panic attacks, taking a huge amount of certain medicines, sudden discontinuation of some medication, injuries of the spinal cord, among other things.



Like with any other illness, this does not mean that people with Pheochomocytomas cannot triumph from it. Understanding one’s body and recognizing when something is different is very important. Being sensitive especially to the signals the body presents can help in diagnosing problems before they get worse. It is, furthermore, always best to recognize the enemy by doing some research and, most significantly, by consulting a doctor. Knowing and understanding is already halfway in winning the battle.


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