J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2002 Jan-Feb;4(1):62-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-6175.2002.01452.x.


Pheochromocytoma, a relatively rare (<0.05% of hypertensives), catecholamine-secreting tumor, is almost always lethal unless recognized and appropriately treated. Clinical and biochemical manifestations are mainly caused by excess circulating catecholamines and hypertension. Manifestations mimic many conditions, which may result in erroneous diagnoses and improper treatment. Sustained or paroxysmal hypertension associated with headaches, sweating, or palpitations, occurs in 95% of patients, but at least 5% are normotensive. All patients with manifestations of hypercatecholaminemia or coexisting neoplasms should be investigated for pheochromocytoma. Plasma free metanephrines and fractionated urinary metanephrines are the most sensitive (about 100%) chemical tests for diagnosing sporadic and familial pheochromocytomas; plasma and urinary catecholamines and total metanephrines are fairly sensitive for identifying sporadic cases but are less sensitive for familial tumors. The clonidine suppression test helps exclude other conditions that may elevate plasma and urinary catecholamines and their metabolites. Magnetic resonance imaging is more sensitive than computed tomography for localizing pheochromocytomas; iodine-131-metaiodobenzylguanidine (131I-MIBG) tumor uptake confers specificity. Surgical resection is successful in 90% of cases, but 10% of tumors are malignant. Pheochromocytomas <5 cm in diameter can be removed laparoscopically; larger tumors should be removed by open surgery. Drug treatment prior to and during surgery is mandatory; drug treatment, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are used to treat malignant lesions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / complications
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Algorithms
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Pheochromocytoma* / complications
  • Pheochromocytoma* / diagnosis
  • Pheochromocytoma* / therapy