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Pheochromocytoma 

A pheochromocytoma is a neuroendocrine tumor that forms in the inner portion of the adrenal glands. When tumors develop within one or both of the body’s adrenal glands, they can release hormones that increase blood pressure and cause symptoms much like those of a panic attack. These adrenal tumors are called pheochromocytomas and they are typically benign, though some can be malignant (cancerous).  

What Causes a Pheochromocytoma? 

Pheochromocytomas are most often found in people aged 20-50, but they can affect anyone at any age. In most cases, the exact cause of pheochromocytomas is unknown. However, their development has been linked to several hereditary conditions, including: 

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome 
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 
  • Carney complex 
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 

Genetic testing may be performed to determine whether any of these conditions may have played a role in the development of a pheochromocytoma. 

Symptoms of a Pheochromocytoma 

In addition to causing high blood pressure, a pheochromocytoma can cause the body to trigger a response to stress at any time—even when a patient is otherwise calm and in no danger.  

The following symptoms may be signs of a pheochromocytoma: 

  • Heart palpitations 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Paleness in the face 
  • Headache 
  • Weight loss 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Tremors 
  • Anxiety 
  • Weakness 

It is important to note that high blood pressure is not normally caused by a pheochromocytoma. Some patients may have a pheochromocytoma and not experience any symptoms at all. In these cases, the pheochromocytoma is usually found when a doctor is looking for something else. 

Diagnosing a Pheochromocytoma 

Pheochromocytomas are diagnosed through specific lab and imaging tests, such as: 

  • 24-hour urine tests 
  • Blood tests 
  • CT scans 
  • MRI or MIBG imaging 

Treating a Pheochromocytoma 

Without proper treatment, a pheochromocytoma can lead to life-threatening complications throughout the body. Surgery is generally needed to treat a pheochromocytoma, whether by removing the tumor itself or the affected adrenal gland if needed. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also used to treat cancerous pheochromocytomas. This surgery tends to be minimally invasive.  

Tampa General Hospital uses cutting-edge technology to achieve world-class results when operating on pheochromocytomas and other adrenal tumors.