Known as the “great mimic,” pheochromocytoma is rare and difficult to diagnose. When a pheochromocytoma begins to cause end-organ damage, it becomes pheochromocytoma multisystem crisis, an even more rare and deadly diagnosis.

Clinical Findings

N.R., a 63-year old man, presented to the emergency department 1 day after receiving a cortisone injection for a nondisplaced wrist fracture. His chief concern was a “racing heart and chest pressure.” N.R. was admitted to the telemetry unit after routine electrocardiography showed atrial fibrillation and elevated blood pressure. Symptoms quickly progressed, and N.R. was transferred to the intensive care unit where he received noninvasive positive pressure ventilation.


A computed tomography scan revealed a 7-cm right intra-adrenal mass, and an echocardiogram showed a markedly reduced ejection fraction. N.R. received a preliminary diagnosis of pheochromocytoma multisystem crisis, although confirmatory laboratory test results were pending. N.R. became progressively more hemodynamically unstable and his respiratory status worsened, and by the end of hospital day 2 he had been intubated and was receiving multiple vasoactive medications intravenously. On hospital day 7, N.R. was transferred to a facility for definitive surgical intervention.


This case represents the importance of timely interventions by nursing staff, clear communication between staff on different shifts, and real-time education by physicians to nursing staff. This collaborative milieu empowered nurses to use their experience and critical thinking to make clinical decisions in providing care.

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