Pheochromocytoma – A Rare Disease

Posted on

Pheochromocytoma is usually not the first, second, or third consideration by the doctor when creating a treatment plan.

A rare tumor of adrenal gland tissue. It results in the release of too much epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones that control heart rate, metabolism, and blood pressure.

This is a rare disease that often presents just like many other illnesses. Diagnostic challenges for regular physicians happen like this more than any of us realize. A doctor can get into a rut just like anyone else. It is possible to get into habituated responses to the presentation of symptoms that look like many of the ordinary illnesses that bring people to a doctor’s office. For instance, the symptoms for pheochromocytoma are headaches, heart palpitations, sweating, and high blood pressure.

If a patient presents with this pheochromocytoma is not the first or even the second or third thing the doctor will think is wrong with them. The typical doctor will responses with appropriate treatment for several other possible illnesses. It is often only when these treatments have failed to alleviate the problem and the problem becomes more and more severe that the doctor will begin to look around for other possible causes for the symptoms and illness that the patient is experiencing. The doctor may dive back into his own education and research, or (s)he may make a referral to a specialist who can help winnow the possibilities and discover the problem.

In this case, the cause is a tumor. Very few of these tumors are cancerous, and they are sometimes hereditary.  As the tumor grows, in addition to the original presenting symptoms, they will present with other symptoms such as abdominal or chest pain, irritability, nervousness, and pallor. These symptoms can also lead the doctor down the wrong path as they jump to the conclusion that the symptom is reflective of some other set of problems.

Sometimes the correct diagnosis is made post- mortem. (after death)

This diagnosis is so rare that Dr. Maupin has only seen two cases in 35 years of practice. It will not be the first assumption that doctors or hospitals will make when you present with the symptoms.  Standard responses will be made for things like headaches, or high blood pressure, or sweating or insomnia or exhaustion. Usually, these are symptoms that we call cluster symptoms because they are common to an entire cluster of health issues.

In her most recent contact with pheochromocytoma a friend of hers who is also a patient contacted her and provided the regular symptoms but continued to get worse no matter what she tried to do to make him better. As she increasingly worried about him she continued to struggle to find what might be wrong. She remembered to do a particular blood test that is not usually done. She did a test for meta-nephrines. This test identified that his blood had way too many of these and this led her to think that he must have a tumor on his adrenal gland. She referred him to an excellent endocrinologist who confirmed her diagnosis and did some other tests to help localize the area of the adrenal that had a tumor.

In this case they found that he had a tumor on one adrenal gland, and they were able to surgically remove it with a laparoscope He is now doing well and getting healthier. he is a very lucky man to have found a doctor that did not give up and that kept searching for the answer for his problems.


This Health cast was written and presented by Dr. Kathy Maupin, M.D., Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Expert and Author, with Brett Newcomb, MA., LPC., Family Counselor, Presenter and Author.

Related Post: