Signs and symptoms of pheochromocytomas may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Forceful heartbeat
  • Profound sweating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sudden-onset headaches — usually severe — of varying duration
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling of extreme fright
  • Pale skin
  • Weight loss

These signs and symptoms develop because this type of tumor produces an excess of chemical compounds called catecholamines. Excessive secretion of catecholamines — the hormones adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) — can lead to persistent high blood pressure or wild fluctuations in your blood pressure, depending on whether the catecholamines are released continuously or in shorter bursts. The intermittent release of these hormones can cause other symptoms to occur from time to time as well.

Although high blood pressure is a common sign of a pheochromocytoma, most people with high blood pressure don't have a pheochromocytoma.

For some people, imaging studies, such as CT scans, done for another reason, may catch a pheochromocytoma before it produces symptoms. You may not have signs or symptoms if your pheochromocytoma is associated with a genetic condition, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia, type II (MEN II), because it's likely to be found on a scan before symptoms start.

When to see a doctor

Talk with your doctor if you:

  • Experience a sudden, severe increase in blood pressure (hypertensive crisis)
  • Have difficulty controlling high blood pressure
  • Are taking more than four medications for high blood pressure
  • Experience the other signs and symptoms of a pheochromocytoma
  • Have a family history of pheochromocytoma; multiple endocrine neoplasia, type II (MEN II); von Hippel-Lindau disease; familial paraganglioma; or neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1)
Apr. 05, 2011