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What is pheochromocytoma?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Pheochromocytoma is a tumor that affects blood pressure. Stemming from the chromaffin cells in the adrenal glands, pheochromocytoma causes you to put out too much of a specific hormone that boosts your blood pressure and heart rate. These tumors are sometimes cancerous, especially if they develop outside of the adrenal gland. When the tumor develops in chromaffin cells outside of the adrenal gland, it is called a paranganglioma.

A pheochromocytoma is a rare adrenaline-producing tumor that arises from the adrenal glands. Pheochromocytomas grow within the center part of the adrenal gland termed the adrenal medulla. The adrenal medulla is part of the peripheral nervous system (the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord) and its main job is to make adrenaline, also known as epinephrine or catecholamine. Adrenaline is a hormone that affects such bodily functions as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestion, sweating, urination, and sexual arousal. Adrenaline is said to control the fight or flight response, or in other words, it gets your body ready to react to stressful situations. Adrenaline is normally released from the adrenal medulla when there is danger or in an emergency situation. In addition to raising heart rate and blood pressure, adrenaline opens air passages to allow in more oxygen, and boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose (sugar) to the brain and muscle. Pheochromocytomas secrete adrenaline in an uncontrolled fashion and can cause serious health problems including stroke, heart attack, and even death. Some physicians call pheochromocytoma a pharmacological time bomb because of its danger. 

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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.