What are the symptoms of pheochromocytoma?

The classic symptoms of pheochromocytoma include: high blood pressure, rapid heart rate (palpitations), headache, flushing, and sweating. In addition, patients may feel like they are having an anxiety or panic attack (difficulty breathing, weakness, a feeling that something "bad" is happening). Other less common symptoms may include pale skin, blurred vision, weight loss, constipation, abdominal pain, high blood sugar levels, low blood pressure, and psychiatric disturbances. If these symptoms happen during a medical procedure, operation, after eating certain foods, or taking certain medicines like monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, the patient should be tested for pheochromocytoma right away. However, it is important to note that 40% of patients will present without any clear cut symptoms, but rather an adrenal tumor that was found on an imaging test done for another reason or at autopsy.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most common symptom of pheochromocytoma. The high blood pressure can either be continuous (most of the time) or episodic (happens every once in awhile). Although most patients will have high blood pressure, about 5 to 15% of patients present with normal blood pressure. In addition, the classic 3 signs and symptoms or triad of pheochromocytoma are headaches, palpitations (rapid heart rate), and sweating. Difficulty breathing, weakness, and panic attack-type symptoms can also occur in this classic presentation. Only about 40% of patients have this classic triad of symptoms. It is important to remember that high blood pressure is very common in general and does not necessarily mean that someone has a pheochromocytoma, even if the patient has headaches, palpitations, and sweating. Other less common signs and symptoms include: pale skin (pallor), low blood pressure, blurred vision, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, constipation, abdominal pain, elevated blood sugar and white blood cell counts, psychiatric disturbances, heart muscle dysfunction (cardiomyopathy), and an elevated red blood cell count. When these symptoms occur during a procedure (e.g., anesthesia, colonoscopy, angiography) and following ingestion of certain food ingredients or drugs (e.g., phenylephrine, monoamine oxidase [MAO] inhibitors, tyramine), a prompt evaluation for pheochromocytoma should be performed.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A pheochromocytoma or tumor of the adrenal gland can cause similar to a panic attack, including high blood pressure, a fast heart rate, and anxiety. Watch Dr. Oz talk more about this tumor and its symptoms.

The chief symptoms of pheochromocytoma are irregular blood pressure and heart rate. Other symptoms that occur because of this condition are excessive perspiration, stomach pain, severe and sudden headaches, anxiety, fear, ashy skin, and loss of weight. Oftentimes, the symptoms resemble a panic attack. These symptoms are very unpredictable and can be prompted by any type of trauma to the tumor.

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