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Pheochromocytomas: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About pheochromocytomas

Pheochromocytoma is a tumour of the adrenal glands wherein the middle part called medulla produces excess quantities of catecholamine hormone namely epinephrine and norepinephrine. Adrenal glands are two in number and placed on top of the kidneys. They are responsible for synthesizing various hormones like aldosterone and cortisol by peripheral (cortex) part and catecholamines by the central part (medulla). This disease is rare but fortunately curable and does not result in any serious health hazards.

Pheochromocytomas: Incidence, age and sex

Pheochromocytoma is seldom encountered in the general population and may afflict any age group. However individuals in age group between 20-40 years are most likely to be affected.

Signs and symptoms of pheochromocytomas: Diagnosis

The predominant symptom of pheochromocytoma is high blood pressure which is difficult to control. The clinical features of pheochromocytoma mimic a panic attack and include rapid heart rate, intense headache, sweating, pain in chest or the abdomen, hand tremors, increase in appetite and anxiety. Such features are not constant but occur in episodic fashion. Episodes may become frequent as the tumour progresses.

The diagnosis can be made by detection of increased levels of catecholamines in the blood and urine and confirmed by CT scan and biopsy of the adrenal gland.

Causes and prevention of pheochromocytomas

The exact cause of pheochromocytomas is not exactly clear. Genetic predisposition may play a role. Moreover it may also arise due to a rare disorder called MEN (Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia) which is characterized by tumour growth in the thyroid, the parathyroid and the adrenal glands. It is advisable to get evaluated in case of occurrence of high blood pressure in individuals of less than 35 years of age, persistent high BP or need of multiple medications to control high BP.

Pheochromocytomas: Complications

There are high chances of relapse of the tumour even after surgical management. Moreover some individuals may still manifest high blood pressure even after treatment. In rare cases, the tumour may become cancerous and spread to other parts of the body.

Pheochromocytomas: Treatment

The chief treatment modality is surgical resection of the tumour tissue. Nowadays, laparoscopic adrenalectomy is done which minimises post operation complications and recovery time. However, it is essential to control high blood pressure and rapid heart rate before the advent of surgery. In most individuals, the blood pressure normalises after surgery. However some individuals may still experience high blood pressure after resection of the adrenal gland. Such individuals may require lifelong antihypertensive medications to maintain their blood pressure in the normal range. If the tumour has spread to other body parts, then chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be considered. But they do not seem to be very effective in management of pheochromocytoma. The prognosis of this disorder is fairly good and show excellent survival rate after adequate management.