Horm Metab Res 2009; 41(9): 658-663
DOI: 10.1055/s-0028-1128139

© Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

The Protean Manifestations of Pheochromocytoma

W. M. Manger 1
  • 1National Hypertension Association, New York, USA
Further Information

Publication History

received 13.11.2008

accepted 02.12.2008

Publication Date:
25 February 2009 (online)


The treacherous and deceptive nature of pheochromocytoma makes it crucial to detect and treat it promptly; otherwise it will almost certainly be fatal from cardiovascular complications or metastases. Hypertension occurring in patients with pheochromocytomas is sustained in about 50% and paroxysmal in the remainder; however, many patients remain normotensive. Hypertension attacks may be precipitated by physical activity, postural changes, anxiety, certain foods or wine, some drugs, operative procedures, etc. Cardinal manifestations are paroxysmal hypertension, headache, palpitations ± tachycardia, inappropriate sweating; anxiety, tremulousness, pallor (rarely flushing), chest and abdominal pains; nausea and vomiting often occur. Hypercatecholaminemia manifestations are more common and pronounced when paroxysmal hypertension occurs, but persons with familial pheochromocytoma may be asymptomatic. Protean manifestations of pheochromocytoma may simulate many conditions, some of which may have elevated plasma and urine catecholamines and their metabolites. Baro-reflex failure, postural tachycardia syndrome, sleep apnea, carcinoid, renal failure, and pseudopheochromocytoma may be diagnostic challenges. The history, physical examination, biochemical testing (after eliminating interfering drugs, when possible) for plasma and urinary metanephrines can usually establish or exclude presence of pheochromocytomas. Occasionally a clonidine suppression test is needed to differentiate neurogenic from pheochromocytic hypertension. Manifestations suggesting hypercatecholaminemia without hypertension are highly atypical of pheochromocytoma. Pheochromocytoma may present as panic attacks, pre-eclampsia, cardiomyopathy, infection with fever and leucocytosis, diabetes, migraine, shock, Cushing's syndrome, multiple organ failure with lactic acidosis, neurological manifestations, transitory electrocardiogram abnormalities, constipation, intestinal obstruction, visual impairment, convulsions, etc. The key to diagnosis is always to think of pheochromocytoma in the differential diagnosis of hypertension.



W. M. Manger, MD, PhD 

Chairman, National Hypertension Association

324 East 30th Street


New York


Phone: +1/212/689 08 73

Fax: +1/212/447 70 32

Email: [email protected]