What is Carcinoid Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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Carcinoid syndrome is a constellation of symptoms which appears in around 10% of individuals who suffer from carcinoid tumors. Because these tumors grow very slowly and rarely produce notable symptoms, developing carcinoid syndrome is often the key to identifying and diagnosing a carcinoid tumor. Treatment for carcinoid syndrome usually depends on removal of the tumor, and treatment with certain medications.

People can develop carcinoid tumors in their lungs and digestive tracts, and these tumors sometimes also appear in the ovaries. This type of tumor is extremely rare, and only certain tumors will cause a patient to develop carcinoid syndrome. The syndrome is caused by the development of tumors which secrete certain hormones, including serotonin, which enter the bloodstream. In some patients, the liver breaks down the hormones before they can cause health problems, but in other instances, carcinoid syndrome can appear.

One of the classic symptoms of this condition is skin flushing. In addition, the patient can develop skin lesions, especially on the face, along with abdominal pain, diarrhea, wheezing, and low blood pressure. Some patients also experience abnormalities in cardiac function as a result of carcinoid syndrome. Blood tests usually reveal an elevated level of hormones in the bloodstream, and the tumors will be identifiable on medical imaging studies.


Because carcinoid tumors grow extremely slowly, sometimes a doctor will simply recommend that a patient take medications which are designed to counteract the hormones, restoring the balance of the endocrine system and allowing bodily function to return to normal. Medications may also be administered to shrink or slow the tumors. In more extreme or advanced cases, surgery may be used to remove the tumors, thereby resolving the carcinoid syndrome.

One of the most common risk factors for carcinoid tumors is a family history. In addition, people who smoke or eat a poor diet are at increased risk, as are people who suffer from medical conditions which involve the digestive tract or lungs. Race also appears to be an issue, with blacks in particular being more likely to develop carcinoid tumors.

Regular examinations can help doctors and patients identify medical changes quickly, which can lead to a hastier identification of issues such as carcinoid tumors. People should also be in the habit of noting changes in their energy level or general health so that they can seek medical attention if changes are persistent or worrisome. Chronic diarrhea, for example, is something which should be addressed, because even if it is not caused by carcinoid syndrome, it may be related to another medical problem which can and should be treated.


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