Signs And Symptoms Of Pheochromocytoma: Causes And Treatment

Pheochromocytoma is an uncommon, generally a non cancerous tumor which develops in the adrenal gland. The tumor synthesizes hormones which cause intermittent or unrelenting high blood pressure. Left untreated, the condition can result in severe damage to other body systems.

Signs and symptoms of pheochromocytomas are:

  • Hypertension
  • Profuse sweating
  • Headache
  • Tremors
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Paleness in the face
  • Breathlessness
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety

Triggers include:

  • Physical exertion
  • Stress
  • An alteration in body position
  • Labor and delivery
  • Surgery
  • Foods high in tyramine, such as pickled, fermented, cured, overripe or spoiled, beer, cheese, chocolate and dried or smoked meats.

Possible Causes Of Pheochromocytoma 

  • The precise cause of pheochromocytoma is quite unclear. The tumor develops in the chromaffin cells, in the adrenal gland.
  • Adrenaline and noradrenaline are released by the chromaffin cells and they are in charge of the body’s fight-or-flight reaction. They bring about hypertension, a rapid heart rate and a heightening in other body systems that enable you to react quickly. A pheochromocytoma causes an unbalanced manufacture of these hormones.

Treatment Options For Pheochromocytoma

The key treatment for a pheochromocytoma is surgery to excise the tumor mass. Before surgery, your health care provider will prescribe blood pressure drugs which hamper the action of the high-adrenaline hormones to diminish the risk of developing perilously high blood pressure during the surgery.

Pre-operative medications

  • Alpha blockers: To keep small arteries and veins open and relaxed, reducing the blood pressure.
  • Beta blockers: To make the heart beat slowly and with less force. They also help keep blood vessels open and relaxed.
  • High salt intake: Alpha and beta blockers dilate the blood vessels; as a result, the quantity of fluid within the blood vessels becomes low. This can result in a perilous dip in the blood pressure. A high salt intake will draw more fluid inside the blood vessels, thereby averting the development of low blood pressure during and after the surgery.

Surgical intervention

By and large, the whole adrenal gland with a pheochromocytoma is excised. Your surgeon will make tiny openings through which he will introduce a wand like apparatus which is equipped with video cameras and tools. The other healthy gland carries out the functions normally, and the blood pressure returns to normal.

In certain rare situations, such as when the other adrenal has been removed, surgery may be done only to get rid of only the tumor mass, thus keeping back some healthy tissue. If the tumor mass is malignant, you need to remove the tumor mass along with all the malignant tissue.

Cancer treatments

  • Radionuclide treatment: This radiotherapy integrates MIBG – an element which gets attached to the adrenal tumor masses, with a kind of radioactive iodine. The chief aim of the treatment is to convey radiation therapy to a definite spot and destroy the cancer cells.
  • This uses powerful drugs which annihilate the fast multiplying tumor cells.
  • Targeted cancer therapy: These drugs slow down the function of naturally occurring molecules which encourage the augmentation and spread of the malignant cells.