What Is Pheochromocytoma?

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What is Pheochromocytoma?
4-7-2012

What is Pheochromocytoma and is there a cure? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary Pheochromocytoma is defined as, a tumor that is derived from chromaffin cells and is usually associated with paroxysmal or sustained hypertension. Chromaffin refers to staining deeply with chromium salts <chromaffin cells of the adrenal medulla>. Paroxysmal means, of, relating to, or marked by paroxysms < the hypertension may be either sustained or paroxysmal>. Hypertension is the high arterial blood pressure that is usually indicated by an adult systolic blood pressure of 140 or greater(Pheochromocytoma - Medical Definition and More from Merriam-Webster. n.d.). So what does all this mean in layman terms? Pheochromocytoma is 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. The adrenal glands are a part of the Endocrine system. It is this system that the body depends on to regulate normal body functions. Most of these types of tumors are benign and only about 10% are malignant. Pheochromocytoma may occur as a single tumor or as more than one growth. It usually develops in the medulla of one or both adrenal glands. Rarely, this kind of tumor occurs outside the adrenal gland, usually somewhere else in the abdomen. Pheochromocytomas produce excess amounts of adrenalin and related hormones, which are the "fight-or-flight" hormones usually released by the adrenal glands in response to stress(Signs and symptoms of pheochromocytoma. n.d.). Now that there is a foundation of what Pheochromocytoma means, what is the diseases origin? Scientists are still unsure of the exact origin of this disease, but suspect that is of a genetic origin. There is no prevention of the disease and the symptoms may vary. Hypertension is the most common symptom of pheochromocytoma. The high blood pressure can either be continuous or episodic. Although most patients will have high blood pressure, about 5 to 15% of patients present with normal blood pressure. In addition, the classic 3 signs and symptoms or "triad" of pheochromocytoma are headaches, palpitations and sweating. Difficulty breathing, weakness, and panic attack-type symptoms can also occur in this classic presentation. Only about 40% of patients have this classic triad of symptoms. It is important to remember that high blood pressure is very common in general and does not necessarily mean that someone has a pheochromocytoma, even if a patient has headaches, palpitations, and sweating. Other less common signs and symptoms include: pale skin, low blood pressure, blurred vision, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, constipation, abdominal pain, elevated blood sugar and white blood cell counts, psychiatric disturbances, heart muscle dysfunction and an elevated red blood cell count. When these symptoms occur during a procedure and following ingestion of certain food ingredients or drugs such as, phenylephrine, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and tyramine, a prompt evaluation for pheochromocytoma should be performed. Another way that pheochromocytoma may be detected is through a "pheo-crisis" which is a life-threatening release of adrenaline that can lead to stroke, heart attack, organ failure, coma, and even death. Approximately 40% of patients will be found to have a pheochromocytoma incidentally. Unfortunately, pheochromocytomas may only be found at autopsy. Up to 10% of patients will be found to have a pheochromocytoma during genetic screening after another family member has been diagnosed with pheochromocytoma or one of the associated inherited diseases(Signs and symptoms of pheochromocytoma. n.d.). What is it within a person’s DNA that causes Pheochromocytoma to occur? According to an endocrine journal approximately up to 25% of patients with apparent sporadic PHEOs, without family history of the disease,...
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