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1- Introduction

2- Pathophysiology

3- Symptoms

4- Treatment


Pheochromocytoma is a rare but potentially serious tumor that develops in the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. These tumors arise from chromaffin cells, which are responsible for producing hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Excess production of these hormones by the tumor can lead to episodes of high blood pressure, palpitations, headaches, sweating, and anxiety. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to manage symptoms and prevent complications related to hypertension and hormone imbalance.


Pheochromocytoma is a tumor originating from chromaffin cells in the adrenal glands, which are responsible for producing adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). These hormones play critical roles in regulating the body’s response to stress, controlling heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. When a pheochromocytoma develops, it can disrupt the normal balance of these hormones, leading to excessive secretion. This, in turn, results in intermittent episodes of severe hypertension (high blood pressure), accompanied by symptoms such as pounding headaches, palpitations, sweating, and feelings of anxiety or panic. These episodic symptoms occur due to sudden releases of adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream, often triggered by physical exertion, emotional stress, or even changes in body position. Chronic elevation of these hormones can also affect other organs and systems, potentially leading to complications like heart problems, strokes, or kidney damage if left untreated. Diagnosis typically involves blood and urine tests to measure hormone levels, imaging studies such as CT or MRI scans to locate the tumor, and sometimes genetic testing if there is suspicion of a hereditary form.

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  • Episodic Hypertension: Sudden, severe spikes in blood pressure that can be intermittent and unpredictable.

  • Headaches: Severe headaches that often accompany episodes of high blood pressure.

  • Palpitations: Rapid or irregular heartbeat, sometimes felt as pounding in the chest.

  • Sweating: Profuse sweating, especially during episodes of high hormone release.

  • Anxiety or Panic Attacks: Feelings of anxiety, nervousness, or panic, sometimes without an obvious trigger.

  • Tremors: Shaking or trembling, particularly noticeable during episodes.

  • Flushed Skin: Skin may become flushed or red during episodes of hormone release.

  • Abdominal Pain: Pain or discomfort in the abdomen, often due to enlarged adrenal glands or pressure from the tumor.

  • Weight Loss: Unintentional weight loss despite normal or increased appetite.

  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or weak, which may occur between episodes of symptoms.


  • Medical Management Before Surgery:

    • Alpha-blockers: These medications (e.g., phenoxybenzamine, doxazosin) are used to control blood pressure by blocking the effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline on blood vessels. They are typically started several weeks before surgery to stabilize blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertensive crisis during the operation.
    • Beta-blockers: Sometimes used in combination with alpha-blockers to control heart rate and manage symptoms such as palpitations.
  • Surgical Removal (Adrenalectomy):

    • The definitive treatment for pheochromocytoma is surgical removal of the tumor, often through a minimally invasive approach (laparoscopic adrenalectomy) if the tumor is localized and small.
    • Prior to surgery, ensuring adequate alpha-blockade to prevent perioperative hypertensive crises is critical.
    • Occasionally, open surgery may be necessary for larger tumors or if laparoscopic removal is not feasible.
  • Post-Surgical Follow-Up:

    • After surgery, patients are monitored closely to ensure blood pressure remains stable and hormone levels normalize.
    • Periodic follow-up visits with endocrinologists and blood tests (e.g., catecholamines and metanephrines) are conducted to detect any recurrence of the tumor.
  • Lifelong Monitoring:

    • Regular monitoring is essential as there is a small risk of recurrence, particularly in patients with hereditary forms of pheochromocytoma (e.g., multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2).
    • Patients may also require lifelong monitoring of adrenal function and blood pressure to detect and manage any long-term complications related to the tumor or surgery.
  • Genetic Counseling:

    • Genetic testing and counseling may be recommended for patients with familial or hereditary pheochromocytoma syndromes to assess the risk of developing other endocrine tumors and to guide screening and management strategies for family members.
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