Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2018

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

People with a pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma may experience the following symptoms or signs. They occur when the tumor releases too many catecholamines in the bloodstream (see Introduction). Some people may experience symptoms several times a day, while others may experience them weekly or every few months. Episodes can last a few seconds or minutes, several hours, or several days. Sometimes, people with these tumors do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not a tumor.

The most common symptom of a catecholamine-producing pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma is episodes of high blood pressure or persistent high blood pressure that can be hard to control. However, most people who have high blood pressure do not have these tumors. High blood pressure, along with headaches, rapid heart rate, and heavy sweating, strongly suggest a pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma.

 Other possible symptoms include:

  • Anxiety attacks

  • Fever

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Extreme paleness in the face

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tremors or shakiness

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Clammy skin

  • Constipation

  • Tingling fingers

  • Vision disturbances

  • Chest or stomach pain

  • Weight loss

  • High blood sugar levels

Symptom triggers

Episodes of symptoms caused by a pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma can occur at any time. They can also be triggered by:

  • Physical activity

  • Physical injury and pain

  • Stress or anxiety

  • Certain medications, such as opiates

  • Medical procedures, such as anesthesia or surgery

  • Eating foods high in tyramine, such as red wine, dried meats, chocolate, and cheese

  • Urination, in people with a paraganglioma in the bladder

  • Childbirth

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you have been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If a pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of your medical care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.