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What are the symptoms of pheochromocytoma?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

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.

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.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.