Excision of pheochromocytoma
Anesthesia type




Lines and access

Large bore IV Arterial line ± Central line ± PA Catheter ± Epidural


Standard 5-lead ECG Temperature ABP ± CVP ± PAP

Primary anesthetic considerations

Preoperative alpha-blockade


Rapid episodes of extreme hypertension Severe hypotension after adrenal vein ligation Cardiovascular collapse Hyperglycemia Hypovolemia


Residual hypertension Prolonged hypotension (requiring vasopressors) Hyper/hypoglycemia

Article quality
Editor rating
User likes

The excision of a pheochromocytoma is a variant of an adrenalectomy, which is the removal of one or both adrenal glands. When the tumor being removed is a pheochromocytoma, careful preoperative optimization and intraoperative management are required to ensure hemodynamic stability during the procedure.

Surgical resection can be performed via open laparotomy, laparoscopic transabdominal, laparoscopic retroperitoneal, or single incision laparoscopic retroperitoneal approaches, each of which has different indications, advantages and disadvantages, as well as unique line and monitoring choices.

Preoperative management

Patient evaluation

System Considerations
  • Investigate headaches and fatigue
  • Evaluate history of chest pain, palpitations, arrhythmia and signs of heart failure
  • Patients may require EKG or echocardiography
  • Patients may present with catecholamine-induced, Takotsubo, or dilated cardiomyopathy[1][2]
  • Classify obstructive or restrictive lung disease
  • Evaluate electrolyte disturbances[3]
  • Evaluate fluid status as patients are often hypovolemic from catecholamine excess
  • Patients may be functionally hyperglycemic due to excessive catecholamine release

Labs and studies

  • ± Electrocardiogram to investigate palpitations, arrhythmia, cardiac ischemia, bundle branch block, or left ventricular hypertrophy
  • ± Echocardiogram to assess signs of heart failure, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or to diagnose cardiac paragangliomas
  • Capillary glucose to test temporary insulin resistance
  • CBC to assess baseline hemoglobin and platelet values
  • CMP to identify electrolyte abnormalities such as hypernatremia or hypokalemia
  • Plasma metanephrines (Normetanephrine, Norepinephrine, Epinephrine , Dopamine)

Operating room setup

  • Infusion manifold with high rate carrier
  • Vasopressor infusion (typically non-direct sympathomimetics such as vasopressin)
  • Direct vasodilator infusion
  • ± Insulin infusion to treat hyperglycemia
  • Diluted push syringes of vasodilators and vasopressors to adjust blood pressure with sudden changes to blood pressure during catecholamine surges during induction and tumor manipulation.

Patient preparation and premedication

Perioperative α-blockade: α-blockade continues to be a staple medication therapy for 10-14 days prior to pheochromocytoma excision

  • Choice between Irreversible non-selective α-blockade (Phenoxybenzamine) or non-selective α-blockade (Doxazosin, Prazosin, and Terazosin)
  • α-blockade blockade adequacy was originally described by the Roizen Criteria[4]:
    1. Blood pressures < 160/90 for 24 hours prior to surgery
    2. Absence of orthostatic hypotension
    3. Absence of ST or T-wave changes prior to surgery
    4. No more than 5 premature ventricular contractions in a minute.
  • However, several centers have recently abandoned these strict criteria, given it's largely inpatient applications, and use a combination of symptoms of orthostatic hypotension, blood pressures, and duration of α-blockade to guide block adequacy.
  • As titration of α-blockade increases prior to surgery, patients will typically exhibit tachycardia. At this time β-blockade or calcium-channel blockade may be introduced. It is still recommended to introduce β-blockade only after several days of α-blockade titration to avoid unopposed α-agonism from the circulating catecholamines, which may cause extreme hypertensive episodes for the patient.

Pre-Operative anxiolysis and analgesia:

  • Catecholamine surges can occur with any noxious stimuli such as laryngoscopy, positive pressure ventilation, or abdominal insufflation. Preoperative anxiolysis and analgesia is useful to prevent catecholamine surges during these episodes.

Early Fluid Resuscitation:

  • Patients are often intravascularly dry due to excessive catecholamines. Early infusion of fluid to establish euvolemia prior to the clamp of the adrenal vein is advisable.
  • Without proper resuscitation during the day-of-surgery or early intraoperative period, patients may exhibit drastic hypotension once the pheochromocytoma is removed.

Regional and neuraxial techniques

  • Epidural analgesia may be useful for patients undergoing open laparotomy approach for pheochromocytoma excision

Intraoperative management

Monitoring and access

  • Standard monitors
  • Arterial line for immediate blood pressure management and electrolyte sampling
  • +/- Central Venous Catheter (CVC) for vasoactive drug infusions (some specialized centers are moving away from CVC insertion)
  • +/- Pulmonary artery catheter for severe heart failure or pulmonary hypertension
  • Foley catheter to monitor fluid status

Induction and airway management

  • Endotracheal tube (consider armored ETT for prone position)


  • Supine for open laparotomy or combined procedures for multiple endocrine neoplasia presentations
  • Lateral for transabdominal laparoscopic approach
  • Prone for retroperitoneal laparoscopic approach

Maintenance and surgical considerations

  • Consider pre-induction arterial line as catecholamine surge can occur during mask ventilation and intubation.
    • Some centers describe a conducting a phenylephrine titration prior to induction to test the adequacy of α-blockade[5]
  • Catecholamine surges can occur during the following intraoperative periods[6]: intubation < Positioning < Insufflation < tumor manipulation
  • Treat and control hypertension prior to adrenal vein ligation.
    • Start with vasodilators (nitroprusside, nitroglycerine, nicardipine, clevidipine) and then supplement with short-acting beta-blockade (esmolol)
  • Surgery team should communicate with anesthesia team when the adrenal vein has been identified and prior to clamping
    • Anesthesia team should load patients with fluid prior to adrenal vein identification
    • Increase vasopressor support (i.e. vasopressin) to prevent sudden loss of blood pressure after ligation of adrenal vein. Titrate down vasodilators at this time.
  • Anticipate sudden drops of blood pressure after adrenal vein clamping. Such changes can induce cardiac collapse.
    • Support blood pressure with vasopressors (i.e. vasopressin)


  • Extubation after case completion is customary

Postoperative management


  • Many centers still admit all pheochromocytoma patients to the intensive care units.
    • A percentage of patients will require vasopressor support after surgical completion until fluid shifts and physiology equilibrates
    • A small population of patients will continue to have circulating catecholamines for several hours and may require a few hours of vasodilation
  • Specialty centers are able to titrate all vasopressors off by the end of the case and patients can be admitted into the PACU
  • With diabetics, the sudden withdrawal of catecholamines can precipitate sudden hypoglycemia - particularly in patients on insulin drips intraoperatively

Pain management

  • Open laparotomy may require epidural pain control. Extreme caution must be utilized in epidural dosing as hemodynamic changes can occur rapidly during surgery. Frequently the epidural is placed preoperatively and not utilized until hemodynamic stability with the tumor removed is achieved.
  • Laparoscopic and particularly single-incision retroperitoneal support rarely require epidural pain management. Pain can be controlled using IV and PO pain medications.

Potential complications

  • Sudden, wide, blood pressure changes can cause cardiac ischemia, cardiovascular collapse and ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke
  • With diabetics, the sudden withdrawal of catecholamines can precipitate sudden hypoglycemia - particularly in patients on intraoperative insulin drips. Monitor post-operative glucose carefully.

Procedure variants

Open Laparotomy Transabdominal




Single-Incision Retroperitoneal


Position Supine Lateral Prone Prone and half jackknife position (praying position)
Surgical time 4-6 hrs 3-5 hrs 1.5 hrs 1.6 hrs
EBL 5 mL 5 mL
Postoperative disposition PACU or ICU PACU or ICU PACU PACU
Pain management Epidural Oral and IV pain medications Oral pain medications Oral pain medications (76%)
Potential complications Subcutaneous emphysema Subcutaneous emphysema
Length of Stay 1.4 days 1.1 days[8]
Other considerations High Insufflation pressures (20-30mmHg)


During the early part of the 20th century, the perioperative mortality of this disease ranged between 26-50%. As surgery is curative in about 90% of presenting cases, the mortality has decreased to roughly 1% in specialized centers. The largest North American series published about pheochromocytoma excision described 108 cases, where 90% were conducted laparoscopically, and the perioperative morbidity rate was 13% without a single mortality[9].


  1. Prejbisz, Aleksander; Lenders, Jacques W.M.; Eisenhofer, Graeme; Januszewicz, Andrzej (2011). "Cardiovascular manifestations of phaeochromocytoma". Journal of Hypertension. 29 (11): 2049–2060. doi:10.1097/HJH.0b013e32834a4ce9. ISSN 0263-6352.
  2. Gu, Yu Wei; Poste, Jennifer; Kunal, Mehta; Schwarcz, Monica; Weiss, Irene (2017). "Cardiovascular Manifestations of Pheochromocytoma". Cardiology in Review. 25 (5): 215–222. doi:10.1097/CRD.0000000000000141. ISSN 1061-5377.
  3. Peramunage, Dasun; Nikravan, Sara (2020-03-01). "Anesthesia for Endocrine Emergencies". Anesthesiology Clinics. 38 (1): 149–163. doi:10.1016/j.anclin.2019.10.006. ISSN 1932-2275. PMID 32008649.
  4. Roizen, M.F.; Horrigan, R.W.; Koike, M.; Eger, E.I.; Mulroy, M.F.; Frazer, B.; Simmons, A.; Hunt, T.K.; Thomas, C.; Tyrell, B. (1982-09-01). "A PROSPECTIVE RANDOMIZED TRIAL OF FOUR ANESTHETIC TECHNIQUES FOR RESECTION OF PHEOCHROMOCYTOMA". Anesthesiology. 57 (3): A43–A43. doi:10.1097/00000542-198209001-00043. ISSN 0003-3022.
  5. Saksa, Dane; Shuch, Brian; Donahue, Timothy; Cusumano, Lucas; Yu, Run; Alapag, Catharina; Kamdar, Nirav (2021-01-14). "Telemedicine-Based Perioperative Management of Pheochromocytoma in a Patient With Von Hippel Lindau Disease: A Case Report". A&A Practice. 15 (1): e01378. doi:10.1213/XAA.0000000000001378. ISSN 2575-3126. PMID 33512909.
  6. Joris, J. L.; Hamoir, E. E.; Hartstein, G. M.; Meurisse, M. R.; Hubert, B. M.; Charlier, C. J.; Lamy, M. L. (1999). "Hemodynamic changes and catecholamine release during laparoscopic adrenalectomy for pheochromocytoma". Anesthesia and Analgesia. 88 (1): 16–21. doi:10.1097/00000539-199901000-00004. ISSN 0003-2999. PMID 9895059.
  7. Sho, Shonan; Yeh, Michael W.; Li, Ning; Livhits, Masha J. (2017). "Single-incision retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy: a North American experience". Surgical Endoscopy. 31 (7): 3014–3019. doi:10.1007/s00464-016-5325-8. ISSN 0930-2794.
  8. Sho, Shonan; Yeh, Michael W.; Li, Ning; Livhits, Masha J. (2017). "Single-incision retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy: a North American experience". Surgical Endoscopy. 31 (7): 3014–3019. doi:10.1007/s00464-016-5325-8. ISSN 0930-2794.
  9. Shen, Wen T.; Grogan, Raymon; Vriens, Menno; Clark, Orlo H.; Duh, Quan-Yang (2010). "One hundred two patients with pheochromocytoma treated at a single institution since the introduction of laparoscopic adrenalectomy". Archives of Surgery (Chicago, Ill.: 1960). 145 (9): 893–897. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2010.159. ISSN 1538-3644. PMID 20855761.