Pathophysiology and Management of Glycemic Alterations before and after Surgery for Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma

Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Mar 8;24(6):5153. doi: 10.3390/ijms24065153.


Glycemic alterations are frequent in patients with pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma (PPGL), but the real incidence of secondary diabetes mellitus (DM) is uncertain, because prospective multicenter studies on this topic are lacking in the literature. The main pathophysiological mechanisms of glucose homeostasis alterations in PPGL, related to catecholamine hypersecretion, are impaired insulin and glucagon-like peptide type 1 (GLP-1) secretion and increased insulin resistance. Moreover, it has been reported that different pathways leading to glucose intolerance may be related to the secretory phenotype of the chromaffin tumor. Predictive factors for the development of glucose intolerance in PPGL patients are a higher age at diagnosis, the need for a higher number of anti-hypertensive drugs, and the presence of secreting neoplasms. Tumor resection is strongly related to the resolution of DM in PPGL patients, with a significant improvement of glycemic control in most cases. We can hypothesize a different personalized therapeutic approach based on the secretory phenotype. The adrenergic phenotype is more closely related to reduced insulin secretion, so insulin therapy may be required. On the other hand, the noradrenergic phenotype mainly acts by increasing insulin resistance and, therefore, insulin-sensitizing antidiabetic agents can find a greater application. Regarding GLP-1 receptor agonists, the data suggest a possible promising therapeutic effect, based on the assumption that GLP-1 secretion is impaired in patients with PPGL. The principal predictors of remission of glycemic alterations after surgery for PPGL are a lower preoperative body mass index (BMI), a larger tumor, higher preoperative catecholamine levels, and a shorter duration of the disease (under three years). Otherwise, after resection of PPGL, hypoglycemia can occur as the result of an excessive rebound of preoperative hyperinsulinemia. It is a rare, but potentially severe complication reported in a lot of case reports and a few small retrospective studies. Higher 24-h urinary metanephrine levels, longer operative times and larger tumors are predictive factors for hypoglycemia in this setting. In conclusion, alterations of carbohydrate metabolism are clinically relevant manifestations of PPGL before and after surgery, but there is the need to conduct multicenter prospective studies to obtain an adequate sample size, and to allow the creation of shared strategies for the clinical management of these potentially severe manifestations of PPGL.

Keywords: catecholamines; glucose intolerance; hypoglycemia; paraganglioma; pheochromocytoma; secondary diabetes mellitus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Catecholamines / urine
  • Glucose Intolerance*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia* / complications
  • Insulin
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Paraganglioma* / pathology
  • Paraganglioma* / surgery
  • Pheochromocytoma* / pathology
  • Pheochromocytoma* / surgery
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Insulin
  • Catecholamines

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.