Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the changes and medical problems that can be a sign of pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma. Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the symptoms and signs of pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma?

People with a pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma may experience one or more of the following symptoms or signs. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem.

These symptoms and signs 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 minutes, several hours, or several days. Sometimes, people with these tumors do not have any of the symptoms or signs described below. Or, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not a neuroendocrine 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

  • Drinking coffee

  • 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 try to understand what is causing your symptom(s). They may do an exam and order tests to understand the cause of the problem, which is called a diagnosis.

If a pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of your medical care and treatment. Managing symptoms may also be called "palliative and supportive care,” which is not the same as hospice care given at the end of life. This type of care focuses on managing symptoms and supporting people who face serious illnesses, such as cancer. You can receive palliative and supportive care at any time during cancer treatment. Learn more in this guide’s section on Coping With Treatment.

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.