Above the kidneys are two yellowish- orange colored glands that are approximately two and half by one inch called the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands play a very important role in secreting hormones and protecting the body from stress. The adrenal glands are composed of two parts, the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. The adrenal cortex is the outer part of the adrenal gland that produces steroid hormones that regulate many different body functions. Not only that, but a hormone called aldosterone is produced by the adrenal cortex. This hormone regulates the amount of water and salt that is in a person’s body.
The adrenal gland also has another part called the adrenal medulla which also has a significant role. The adrenal medulla’s functions mainly deal with stress and frightening situations. It produces hormones known as catecholamines such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. Catecholamines deal with responding to acute or severe, sudden stress like in situations that are life threatening. Theses catecholamine hormones are responsible for the racing of the heart, known as palpations, sweating, the shakiness of the hands, and the widening of the eyes when a stressful situation occurs or when faced with sudden fear.
When these glands begin to grow tumors called Pheochromocytoma. Phechromocytoma is a rare tumor that is found on the adrenal glands that causes hyper secretion of hormones that control the heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism called epinephrine and norepinephrine that results in intermittent or sustained hypertension. Pheochromocytoma most often occurs in young to middle- aged adults that are between the ages of 30 and 60. Out of the people who are affected, ten percent of them are children that develop symptoms between the ages of 6 and 14.
Many factors contribute to the cause of phechromocytoma. Environmental and genetic factors both play a role in most cases. Pheochromocytoma can occur either alone, or in combination with other disorders. Neurofibromatosis Von Hippel-Lindau disease, tuberous sclerosis, Sturge-Weber syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome, also known as MEN syndrome, and ataxia-telangiectasia are the most common disorders that pheochromocytoma are associated with. Since it can combined with other conditions, there are also quite a few symptoms that go alomg with it as well.
If a person has pheochromocytoma, high blood pressure is the most common symptom, which can be to the extreme at times. Although every child is different and may experience symptoms differently, other symptoms may include rapid pulse, headache, racing heart, poor weight gain despite a good appetite, vomiting, dizziness, sweating, pale skin, growth failure, nausea, clammy skin, and abdominal pain. Because pheochromocytoma may resemble other medical conditions or problems, it is always best to consult the child’s physician for a proper diagnosis.
Diagnostic procedures for pheochromocytoma, along with a complete physical examination and medical history, may include a urine and blood test so that hormone levels can be measured, a CAT scan may be taken of the adrenal gland, which is more detailed than a general x- ray and a radioisotope scan. Also, genetic testing may be done as well. Once pheochromocytoma is diagnosed, treatment can begin. Based on the overall health, age, medical history, tolerance for specific medications, the extent of the disease, and ther factors, will help the physician determine the specific treatment needed for pheochromocytoma.
Usually, the treatment includes removing the tumor. However, before the tumor can even be removed, the physician may prescribe some mediations to control high blood pressure. When dealing with children and pheochromocytoma, there may be multiple tumors. In this case, before the surgery, an extensive evaluation is required to locate the tumors. After surgery, to monitor the development of future tumors, on- going medical follow- ups may be necessary. Since, in most cases, genetics play a role in pheochromocytoma, family members are well- advised to be tested to rule out the presence of any tumors.