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Adrenal gland cells can form a tumor, called a pheochromocytoma. The cells secrete hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine to help regulate heart rate and blood pressure in excessive amounts, resulting in: 

  • Very high blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Severe headaches

Most of these tumors are benign and occur due to genetic mutation.

Are You at Risk?

Factors that may increase your chances of pheochromocytoma include:

  • A family history
  • Tumors in other glands of the body
  • Hormonal disorders

Genetic diseases associated with pheochromocytoma include:

  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 2
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1
  • Paraganglioma syndromes

Symptoms of Pheochromocytoma

Most people don't have symptoms. In people who have them, symptoms may include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sensation of a panic attack
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea, vomiting, constipation
  • Pounding heart beat
  • Chest pain
  • Involuntary trembling
  • Pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Warmth, flushing
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure, which can be constant or sporadic
  • Tingling, burning or numbness in the legs and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Unable to cope with high temperature
  • Aggressive or unusual behavior

Diagnosing Pheochromocytoma

Your doctor may need to test your body fluids with:

  • Urine testing
  • Blood testing
  • Clonidine suppression test

Your doctor may need images of your body structures, using:

  • CT scans
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • MIBG scintiscan or adrenal medullary imaging
  • PET scan

Treatment for Pheochromocytoma

Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy

Your doctor removes benign tumors with small incisions and special instruments. Your doctor may also remove the adrenal glands as a part of this process. You'll need to lower your blood pressure with medications prior to surgery.

Chemotherapy & Radiation Therapy

Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy if the tumor is cancerous and has spread outside of the adrenal glands.

Radiation therapy can also help destroy the tumors if they have spread.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.