Menu   WellSpan Health

Health Library

Health Library


What is a pheochromocytoma?

A pheochromocytoma is a tumor that secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine hormones. These hormones regulate heart rate and blood pressure, among other functions. Pheochromocytomas occur most frequently in adults between ages 20 and 50. Children represent 10% of affected individuals and usually develop symptoms between ages 6 and 14.

What causes a pheochromocytoma?

Many factors contribute to the development of a pheochromocytoma. In most cases, both genetic and environmental factors play a role. About 25% of cases are part of a hereditary syndrome. Pheochromocytoma can occur alone or in combination with other disorders. Disorders most often associated with pheochromocytoma include:

  • Neurofibromatosis

  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease

  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndromes

What are the symptoms of pheochromocytoma?

The most common symptom of pheochromocytoma is high blood pressure, which is sometimes extreme. Each person may experience symptoms differently. Other symptoms may include:

  • Rapid pulse

  • Heart palpitations

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • In children, poor weight gain despite good appetite

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal pain or distension 

  • Pale skin

  • Clammy skin

  • Sweating

The symptoms of pheochromocytoma may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

How is pheochromocytoma diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for pheochromocytoma may include:

  • Blood and urine tests.  These tests measure hormone levels.

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays. Your doctor may also consider an MRI as the initial diagnostic test. 

  • Radioisotope scan. This scan uses radioactive substances introduced into the body to create an image of the functioning adrenal gland.

  • Genetic testing. Any child having a pheochromocytoma should be considered for genetic screening as a possible cause. 

Treatment for pheochromocytoma

Treatment for pheochromocytoma usually includes removing the tumor. Before removing the tumor, however, your doctor may prescribe medications to control high blood pressure. Children may have multiple tumors. An extensive evaluation to locate them would be required before surgery.

Continuous medical follow-up may be required to monitor the development of future tumors.

Family members may also want to consider genetic testing to rule out the presence of the tumors, as genetics factors contribute in some cases.

Pheochromocytoma - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Last Review Date: 2014-09-03T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2014-09-12T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-11-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2014-09-12T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

I would like to:

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.