Who it affects
This is a rare condition that affects about 5 in 1 million people.
What gland is involved
Phaeochromocytomas usually arise in the adrenal glands. They secrete catecholamine hormones, usually adrenaline or noradrenaline.
Patients with a phaeochromocytoma may experience symptoms such aspalpitations, headaches, sweating and anxiety. Their blood pressure may also be high.
To diagnose this condition, 24 hour urine collections are required, blood tests and scans of the adrenal glands (CT, MRI and isotope scans).
Most cases are due to a discrete benign lesion in one adrenal gland. Treatment in such instances is by surgery. This is increasingly performed laproscopically. Certain drugs, including some used for anaesthesia, may precipitate a medical emergency in patients with a phaeochromocytoma. It is therefore important to discuss any changes to your medication with an endocrinology specialist, before these are made.
In preparation for surgery, good communication is essential between your surgeon and endocrinology specialist to ensure that the appropriate medications are commenced. It is important that alpha-blockers are introduced before beta-blockers in the treatment of high blood pressure in patients with a phaeochromocytoma.
The outlook for benign phaeochromocytoma is very good, although high blood pressure may persist. Recurrence rates are less than 10%.
Malignant phaeochromocytomas are rare and the outlook should be discussed on an individual basis with your endocrinology specialist.