Screening for Endocrine Hypertension

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Pheochromocytoma is a condition in which there is secretion of excess catecholamines, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine due to a tumor of the adrenal medulla.21 This is a rare disease and accounts for only 0.2% to 0.6% of all causes of hypertension.22 Hypertension (persistent or paroxysmal) is the most common finding for patients with pheochromocy­toma, with 80% to 90% presenting with this finding.23 It is important to note that approximately 10% of these patients will be normotensive. Three of the condition’s classic symptoms are headache, sweating, and palpitations.24 Additional symptoms include anxiety, sense of impending doom, fever, nausea, or vomiting.21

If left untreated, there is risk for hypertensive retinopathy, nephropathy, myocardial infarction, stroke from cerebral infarction, intracranial hemorrhage, or embolism.25 Due to the high rate of morbidity and mortality with untreated pheochromocytoma, laboratory testing should be initiated immediately upon suspicion of this diagnosis or if the patient has relevant family history.11

Patients should be screened for pheochromocytoma if they have ≥ 1 of the following factors:

  1. Resistant hypertension and hyperadrenergic symptoms (palpitations, perspiration, pallor, or headache)
  2. Family history of pheochromocytoma
  3. Any genetic syndrome with a known association to pheochromocytoma
  4. An adrenal mass that is > 4 cm, is cystic, or has hemorrhagic changes.19

Pheochromocytoma is diagnosed by identifying high concentrations of plasma-free metanephrines or 24-hour fractionated metanephrines and catecholamines. Some medications can interfere with the accuracy of lab results and therefore may need to be temporarily stopped; it is important to check the specific lab guidelines and review the patient’s medication lists before tests are ordered and conducted.25


Although the causes of endocrine-related hypertension are very rare, screening for endocrine hypertension in patients who present with signs and symptoms of these conditions can greatly improve their lives. The endocrine disorders discussed in this article can be treated or controlled with appropriate diagnosis and treatment. In addition, resolving uncontrolled hypertension by addressing endocrine disorders can reduce the risk for long-term sequelae. It is important for clinicians to consider referral to an endocrine specialist if a patient has endocrine-related hypertension. In particular, patients with pheochromocytoma require quick referral due to a risk for high morbidity and mortality if left untreated.11

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