Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
- Pheochromocytoma facts
- What is a pheochromocytoma?
- What are the symptoms of a pheochromocytoma?
- What conditions are associated with pheochromocytomas?
- What else can cause the symptoms of a pheochromocytoma?
- How is pheochromocytoma diagnosed?
- How is a pheochromocytoma treated?
- What is the prognosis with a pheochromocytoma?
- Patient Comments: Pheochromocytoma - Experience
- Patient Comments: Pheochromocytoma - Symptoms and Signs
- Find a local Endocrinologist in your town
- Pheochromocytoma is a relatively rare tumor of the adrenal glands or of similar specialized cells outside of the adrenal glands.
- Pheochromocytomas secrete catecholamine hormones (adrenaline and related hormones) that are responsible for the characteristic symptoms.
- Headache, sweating, and a fast heartbeat are typical symptoms, usually in association with markedly high blood pressure.
- About 10% of pheochromocytomas are malignant.
- Surgery is the treatment of choice.
- Pheochromocytomas can occur in combination with other tumors, conditions and in some familial (inherited) syndromes.
What is a pheochromocytoma?
Pheochromocytomas are a type of tumor of the adrenal glands that can release high levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine. As the name implies, the “ad-renal” glands are located near the "renal" (kidney) area. In other words, the adrenal glands are small glands that are located near the top of the kidneys. One adrenal gland sits on top of each of the two kidneys.
Despite their small size, the adrenal glands have many functions. They are complex endocrine (hormone secreting) glands. Cells in different regions of the adrenal glands have different functions in the endocrine system. There is an area (zona fasciculata) where the cells secrete cortisol, a hormone similar to cortisone. There is another area (zona glomerulosa) where cells secrete a hormone called aldosterone which helps in water regulation.
There is yet another area, referred to as the adrenal medulla, where the cells secrete substances called catecholamines -- epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. These are "flight or fight" hormones. They are responsible in part for that feeling of an "adrenaline" rush people feel when they are afraid. It is these cells that are involved in a pheochromocytoma. Basically, a pheochromocytoma is a tumor of these catecholamine-secreting cells, and that causes the clinical signs and symptoms we will discuss below. The catecholamine-secreting cells are sometimes referred to as chromaffin cells, and they are found in other areas of the body as well as in the adrenal medulla.
Sometimes, pheochromocytomas arise from chromaffin cells that are located outside of the adrenal gland. In this case, they are termed extra-adrenal pheochromocytomas or paragangliomas and are usually located in the abdomen.
Pheochromocytomas may occur in persons of any age. The peak incidence is between the third and the fifth decades of life. Pheochromocytomas are, fortunately, quite rare (2 to 8 people per million per year), and the majority of them are entirely benign.
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