What are the symptoms and treatment options for carcinoid crisis?

Symptom Database

Carcinoid crisis is a life-threatening condition that can occur in individuals with neuroendocrine tumors, specifically carcinoid tumors. These tumors are slow-growing and originate from neuroendocrine cells, which are responsible for producing hormones. Carcinoid syndrome, a collection of symptoms caused by the release of hormones and other substances from carcinoid tumors, can lead to the development of carcinoid crisis. This article will explore the symptoms and treatment options for carcinoid crisis, providing valuable insights for individuals affected by this condition.

Understanding Carcinoid Crisis

Carcinoid crisis is characterized by a sudden and severe exacerbation of symptoms associated with carcinoid syndrome. It occurs when there is an excessive release of hormones, particularly serotonin, from carcinoid tumors. Serotonin syndrome, a condition caused by an excess of serotonin in the body, is a key component of carcinoid crisis. The sudden surge of serotonin can lead to a range of symptoms, including flushing, diarrhea, bronchospasm, hypotension, and tachycardia.

Symptoms of Carcinoid Crisis

The symptoms of carcinoid crisis can vary in severity and may include:

  • Flushing: The sudden reddening of the skin, often accompanied by a warm sensation.
  • Diarrhea: Frequent and watery bowel movements.
  • Bronchospasm: Constriction of the airways, leading to difficulty in breathing.
  • Hypotension: Low blood pressure, which can cause dizziness and fainting.
  • Tachycardia: Rapid heart rate, often exceeding the normal range.

It is important to note that not all individuals with carcinoid tumors will experience carcinoid crisis. However, those who do may require immediate medical attention due to the potentially life-threatening nature of the condition.

Treatment Options for Carcinoid Crisis

When a patient presents with symptoms of carcinoid crisis, prompt intervention is crucial. The primary goal of treatment is to stabilize the patient and manage the symptoms effectively. The following treatment options may be employed:

1. Oxygen Therapy

Administering supplemental oxygen can help alleviate breathing difficulties associated with bronchospasm. Oxygen therapy ensures that the patient receives an adequate supply of oxygen, reducing the risk of complications.

2. Intravenous Fluids

Intravenous fluids are administered to maintain hydration and stabilize blood pressure. This helps counteract the hypotension commonly observed in carcinoid crisis.

3. Medications

Medications play a crucial role in managing the symptoms of carcinoid crisis. The following medications may be used:

  • Octreotide: This medication helps reduce the release of hormones, including serotonin, from carcinoid tumors. It can effectively control flushing, diarrhea, and bronchospasm.
  • Antihistamines: These medications can help alleviate symptoms such as flushing and itching.
  • Bronchodilators: Used to relax the airway muscles and improve breathing in cases of bronchospasm.
  • Vasopressors: These medications can be administered to increase blood pressure in individuals with severe hypotension.

4. Surgical Intervention

In some cases, surgical removal of the carcinoid tumor may be necessary to prevent future episodes of carcinoid crisis. This option is typically considered when the tumor is localized and has not spread to other parts of the body.

Preventing Carcinoid Crisis

While it may not be possible to completely prevent carcinoid crisis, there are steps individuals with neuroendocrine tumors can take to minimize the risk:

  • Regular medical follow-ups: It is essential to attend regular check-ups with healthcare professionals to monitor the progression of the tumor and manage symptoms effectively.
  • Compliance with medication: Adhering to prescribed medications, such as octreotide, can help control hormone release and reduce the likelihood of a crisis.
  • Dietary modifications: Avoiding triggers such as certain foods and alcohol can help manage symptoms associated with carcinoid syndrome.
  • Stress management: Stress can exacerbate symptoms, so implementing stress-reducing techniques, such as meditation or exercise, may be beneficial.


Carcinoid crisis is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Understanding the symptoms and treatment options for this condition is crucial for individuals with neuroendocrine tumors. Prompt intervention, including oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, medications, and surgical intervention, can help stabilize patients and manage symptoms effectively. By following preventive measures and maintaining regular medical follow-ups, individuals can minimize the risk of experiencing carcinoid crisis and improve their overall quality of life.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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