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April 12, 1999

Severe Paroxysmal Hypertension (Pseudopheochromocytoma): Understanding the Cause and Treatment

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, Hypertension Division, New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York.

Arch Intern Med. 1999;159(7):670-674. doi:10.1001/archinte.159.7.670

Severe, symptomatic paroxysmal hypertension always generates suspicion of a pheochromocytoma, a catecholamine-secreting tumor. However, most patients with this disorder do not have this tumor and their condition remains undiagnosed and ineffectively treated. This case series, summarizing the course of 21 such patients, suggests a cause and an effective treatment approach. All 21 patients insisted that the paroxysms were not related to stress or emotional distress, initially discouraging consideration of a link to emotions. Nevertheless, with careful psychosocial interviewing, the disorder could be attributed to emotions patients were not aware of, and, therefore, unable to report. Such emotions were related either to previous severe emotional trauma or to a general tendency to keep distressful emotions out of awareness. With treatment based on this understanding, further paroxysms were eliminated in 13 (62%) of 21 patients. α- plus β-blockade was used, combined, when necessary, with an antidepressant agent, with or without an anxiolytic agent. In 3 cases, the disorder was cured with psychotherapy alone. Because the presenting symptoms are physical rather than emotional, patients present to internists and primary care physicians rather than to psychotherapists. For this reason, more awareness of this disorder in the medical community is needed.