Pheochromocytomas: Adrenal Gland Tumors

Headaches, Anxiety, Nervousness, and Hypertension

Written by James Norman MD, FACS, FACE

Pheochromocytomas are tumors of the adrenal gland that produce excess adrenaline. Pheochromocytomas arise from the central portion of the adrenal gland, which is called the adrenal medulla. The adrenal medulla is responsible for the normal production of adrenaline, which our body requires to help maintain blood pressure and to help cope with stressful situations. A tumor that arises from the adrenal medulla and overproduces adrenaline can be a deadly tumor because of the severe elevation in blood pressure it causes.

In this Series

In this Article

Symptoms of Pheochromocytomas

The classic symptoms of pheochromocytomas (or pheos) are those attributable to excess adrenaline production. Often these patients will have recurring episodes of sweating, headache, and a feeling of high anxiety.

The following symptoms are listed from the most common to the least common:

Who Should Be Examined for a Pheochromocytoma?

Diagnosing Pheochromocytomas

The diagnosis of pheochromocytoma hinges on the treating physician entertaining the diagnosis in the first place. Making the diagnosis is usually straightforward by performing the following tests:

X-ray Tests for Pheochromocytomas

There are 4 primary x-ray tests to examine the adrenal glands (and the rest of the abdomen) for the presence of a pheo. Some are better than others and are therefore used routinely, while one or 2 are used infrequently, yet can yield important information when positive.

To learn more, read our article about x-ray tests for adrenal gland tumors.

Surgical Treatment of Pheochromocytomas

All pheochromocytomas should be removed surgically. The vast majority of patients can be treated with the new technique of minimally invasive laparoscopic adrenalectomy. This is now the preferred method for removing pheochromocytomas and is available in most hospitals in the US.

If you would like to learn more about pheochromocytomas, please read our article entitled Pheochromocytoma: The Ten-Percent Tumor.