An unusual cause of autonomic dysreflexia: pheochromocytoma in an individual with tetraplegia

J Spinal Cord Med. Summer 2003;26(2):172-5. doi: 10.1080/10790268.2003.11752537.


Background: Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a frequent, serious acute syndrome that occurs in patients with spinal cord lesions at level T6 and above. The syndrome is caused by massive sympathetic discharge that is triggered by a noxious stimulus below the level of the spinal cord lesion. Pheochromocytomas are rare tumors that present with symptoms similar to AD.

Methods: Case Report.

Findings: A 50-year-old man with C7 American Spinal Injury Association scale A tetraplegia presented with episodes of severe headaches and paroxysmal hypertension. He was diagnosed with AD. Despite resolving bladder and bowel problems, he continued to have hypertensive episodes. A CT scan of the abdomen revealed a heterogeneous left adrenal mass. Further workup revealed significantly elevated serum and 24-hour urinary catecholamines. Clonidine failed to fully suppress the markedly elevated concentrations of serum catecholamines. These biochemical findings were consistent with the diagnosis of pheochromocytoma. Prior to surgery, the patient was treated with alpha-receptor blockers and volume expansion with intravenous fluids. A left adrenalectomy was performed. The surgical specimen revealed that the adrenal gland was expanded by a spherical mass. The pathologic report was benign pheochromocytoma of the left adrenal gland.

Conclusion: Clinical symptoms and hypertensive episodes resolved following adrenalectomy. To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of a pheochromocytoma in an individual with spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / complications*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / therapy
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / diagnosis*
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / etiology*
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pheochromocytoma / complications*
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis*
  • Pheochromocytoma / therapy
  • Quadriplegia / diagnosis*
  • Quadriplegia / etiology*
  • Quadriplegia / rehabilitation
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation