Pheochromocytomas and Hypertension

Curr Hypertens Rep. 2018 Jan 22;20(1):3. doi: 10.1007/s11906-018-0804-z.


Purpose of review: Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs) are uncommon catecholamine-producing neuroendocrine neoplasms that usually present with secondary hypertension. This review is to update the current knowledge about these neoplasms, the pathophysiology, genetic aspects and diagnostic and therapeutic algorithms based on scientific literature mostly within the past 3 years.

Recent findings: Eighty to eighty-five percent of PPGLs arise from the adrenal medulla (pheochromocytomas; PCCs) and the remainder from the autonomic neural ganglia (paragangliomas; PGLs). Catecholamine excess causes chronic or paroxysmal hypertension associated with sweating, headaches and palpitations, the presenting features of PPGLs, and increases the cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Genetic testing should be considered in all cases as mutations are reported in 35-40% of cases; 10-15% of PCCs and 20-50% of PGLs can be malignant. Measurements of plasma-free metanephrines or 24-h urine-fractionated metanephrines help biochemical diagnosis with high sensitivity and specificity. Initial anatomical localization after biochemical confirmation is usually with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 123Iodine metaiodobenzylguanidine (123I-MIBG) scintigraphy, positron emission tomography (PET) or single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) is often performed for functional imaging and prognostication prior to curative or palliative surgery. Clinical and biochemical follow-up is recommended at least annually after complete tumour excision. Children, pregnant women and older people have higher morbidity and mortality risk. De-bulking surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, radionuclide agents and ablation procedures are useful in the palliation of incurable disease. PPGLs are unique neuroendocrine tumours that form an important cause for endocrine hypertension. The diagnostic and therapeutic algorithms are updated in this comprehensive article.

Keywords: Hypertension; Paragangliomas (PGLs); Pheochromocytomas (PCCs); Plasma free metanephrines; Urine fractionated metanephrines.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / complications
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Algorithms
  • Genetic Testing
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology*
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Hypertension / therapy*
  • Paraganglioma / complications
  • Paraganglioma / diagnosis
  • Paraganglioma / physiopathology
  • Paraganglioma / therapy
  • Pheochromocytoma / complications
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis*
  • Pheochromocytoma / physiopathology
  • Pheochromocytoma / therapy*