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Pheochromocytoma (A tumor of the adrenal glands): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

  • Posted on- Aug 28, 2015
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A Pheochromocytoma is an uncommon, benign tumor that grows in cells in the center of an adrenal gland. A human body contains two adrenal glands, each located above kidney. Adrenal glands release different hormones that direct virtually every organ and tissue in the body.

In case of pheochromocytoma, an adrenal gland releases hormones that cause relentless high blood pressure. If left unattended, pheochromocytoma can lead to severe life-threatening health conditions, especially the cardiovascular system.

Though tumor can develop at any age, pheochromocytoma is commonly seen in people with 20 and 50 age group.

Symptoms of pheochromocytoma

Prominent signs and symptoms of pheochromocytomas include:


Less prominent signs or symptoms may include:

The above mentioned symptoms often occur in brief spells of 15 to 20 minutes. This can happen several times a day. Your blood pressure may remain normal or rise between spells.

Triggers of symptomatic spells

Certain tyramine (a substance that influences blood pressure) rich foods can also trigger a spell. Tyramine is common in foods that are fermented, aged, pickled, cured, overripe or spoiled. These foods may include:
  • Some cheeses
  • Some beers and wines
  • Dried or smoked meats
  • Avocados, bananas and fava beans
  • Pickled fish

Factors contributing to pheochromocytoma

Researchers have little to no idea of the causes of pheochromocytoma. However, they do know that the tumor develops in specialized cells, called chromaffin cells, located in the center of an adrenal gland. These cells produce and release adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones.

These hormones stimulate higher blood pressure, a faster heart rate and a boost in other body systems that enable you to react quickly with a burst of energy. A pheochromocytoma results in the abnormal and enormous release of these hormones.

Available treatments and drugs for pheochromocytoma

The best treatment for pheochromocytoma is to surgically remove the tumor. Prior to surgery, your endocrinologist will prescribe medications to normalize your blood pressure and lower the risk of complications during surgery.

Medications

Your endocrinologist will prescribe two different drugs for a period of seven to 10 days that help lower blood pressure before surgery:
  • Alpha blockers prevent noradrenaline from stimulating the muscles in the walls of smaller arteries and veins. Because these blood vessels remain open and relaxed, blood flow improves and blood pressure lessens.
  • Beta blockers, which slow down the effect of adrenaline, result in your heart beating more slowly and with less force. Beta blockers also help keep blood vessels open and relaxed by slowing the release of a particular enzyme from your kidneys.
  • Other medications that lower blood pressure may be prescribed along with alpha blockers and beta blockers.

Surgery

In 90% of the cases, the entire adrenal gland with a pheochromocytoma is removed using laparoscopic or minimally invasive technique. The remaining healthy adrenal gland carries out the functions and blood pressure usually returns to normal.