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Eur J Endocrinol. 2004 May;150(5):681-6.

Circumstances of discovery of phaeochromocytoma: a retrospective study of 41 consecutive patients.

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Department of Cardiology and Hypertension, Grenoble University Hospital, 38043 Grenoble Cedex 09, France.



Phaeochromocytoma is a rare tumour of the chromaffin cells, the diagnosis of which is based on an assay of metanephrines and treatment is surgical excision of the tumour. It is usually discovered due to a rich and varied symptomatology or classic paroxysmal hypertension. The main purpose of this study was to specify the exact circumstances of discovery of the phaeochromocytomas operated on in our university hospital between 1990 and 2002.


Forty-one consecutive and complete case reports of patients who had surgery for phaeochromocytoma were analysed retrospectively. This series includes 10 patients with a genetic disorder predisposing to phaeochromocytoma.


The association of headaches and palpitations with sweating was found in only 24% of cases (10/41). Blood pressure anomalies led to the discovery of phaeochromocytoma in only 51% of cases (21/41) and 59% (24/41) of all the patients suffered from hypertension. In almost half the cases (20/41), the tumour was discovered by an imaging method (ultrasonography, CT scan or MRI) which had been performed for reasons unrelated to a blood pressure abnormality.


Phaeochromocytoma, the symptoms of which are not very specific and during which hypertension is present in only half the patients, is a disease that remains rare. Its incidence could be increasing because of changes in the method of detection. Indeed, in our study, different imaging techniques led to its incidental discovery in half of the cases.

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