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  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:



(Pheo; Adrenal Gland Tumor; Pheochromocytosis)


A pheochromocytoma is a tumor that grows on the adrenal glands. These glands sit on top of the kidneys and make hormones. Pheochromocytomas are made up of special adrenal gland cells. The cells send out hormones that effect heart rate and blood pressure. The cells may send out too much of the hormones, which leads to other symptoms.

Most of these tumors are not cancer.

Adrenal Glands

Nucleus factsheet image\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si55551627.jpgNULL8NULL2008-12-10254390Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Most pheochromocytomas have no known cause. Some people may have a change in their genes that can cause this type of tumor.

Risk Factors

The risk of pheochromocytoma may be higher in those with:

  • A family history of pheochromocytoma
  • Tumors in other glands of the body
  • Certain hormone problems

Some genetic diseases raise the risk of pheochromocytoma. They include:


Pheochromocytoma does not cause symptoms in many people. Those that have symptoms may have:

  • Severe headaches, or pain in the lower chest or upper belly
  • Feelings like panic or anxiety, including:
    • Fast heart rate and pounding heart beat
    • Excessive sweating, warmth, and flushing
    • Shaking
    • Problems breathing
    • Problems sleeping
  • Blurred vision
  • Digestive problems, such as:
    • Nausea, vomiting, loose stools (poop) or problems passing stool
    • Increased appetite
    • Weight loss
  • Excessive thirst and urination (peeing)
  • Tingling, burning, or numbness in the legs and feet
  • Muscle weakness

The condition also leads to very high blood pressure.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Diagnosis is based on urine and blood tests. These tests look for metanephrines. Metanephrines are what is left after adrenal hormones break down. A clonidine suppression test may be done if first tests are not clear.

Images may be taken to look for the tumor. It may be done with:


The first goal is to control blood pressure with medicine. Other medicines may be given to treat symptoms such as fast heartbeat.

Once blood pressure is stable, the tumor may be removed to stop the symptoms.

The tumor may be removed with a surgery called laparoscopic adrenalectomy. The adrenal gland may also be removed.

Chemotherapy or radiation may be needed if the tumor is cancer.


There are no steps to prevent pheochromocytoma.





  • Farrugia FA, Charalampopoulos A. Pheochromocytoma. Endocr Regul. 2019 Jul 1;53(3):191-212.
  • Pheochromocytoma. National Organization of Rare Disorders website. Available at:
  • Pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
  • Pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma treatment (PDQ)–patient version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.