Pheochromocytomas are very rare tumors that usually develop in the adrenal glands, small glands on top of the kidneys. They most commonly affect people between the ages of 20 and 50, but can occur at any age. Because of hormones secreted, symptoms include high blood pressure, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and headache.

Overview and Symptoms

A pheochromocytoma is a rare, usually benign (noncancerous) tumor that develops in an adrenal gland. Usually, this type of tumor affects one of your two adrenal glands, but it can affect both.

Pheochromocytoma causes high blood pressure, and left untreated, can result in severe or life-threatening damage to other body systems, especially the cardiovascular system. Other symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Tremors
  • Paleness in the face (pallor)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)


Your doctor will likely order blood and urine tests. If those tests indicate the possibility of a pheochromocytoma, you may also have imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI or PET scan.

Treatment at BIDMC

The primary treatment for a pheochromocytoma is surgery to remove the tumor. Before you undergo surgery, your doctor will prescribe blood pressure medications to lower the risk of developing dangerously high blood pressure during surgery.

Endocrine Surgery

Our endocrine surgeons are highly skilled in treating conditions of the thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands.

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