Even though headaches are the most frequent symptom of a head tumor, they may not be necessarily an infallible indicator of this condition. Headaches occur for a plethora of reasons, and there is statistic evidence that only about 8% of head tumor patients experience headaches at the onset of its development. However, about 50% of patients that have a diagnosed head tumor complain that they did experience headaches as the disease developed further. That means that symptoms other than a headache are more probable to manifest on the onset.
Symptoms that patients experience when it comes to brain tumor vary, depending on the type of tumor, the area that is affected and finally, in what stage of development it is. The same goes for headaches, sometimes they are prominent, sometimes they are not. It is highly individual.
As for how it feels, scientists claim that there is not one definite description of a headache caused by a brain tumor. Patients mostly describe a headache as being worse in the morning. The pain is dull, numb and may be followed by nausea and vomiting; usually, the headache becomes less painful later in the day.
However, headaches seem to occur in the later stages of the tumor development, when the tumor becomes bigger in mass and begins to obstruct parts of the brain, simultaneously putting pressure on the brain. This pressure can also be caused by an excess of fluid in the brain or brain swelling.
This is called intracranial pressure (ICP), and it may be accompanied by other ‘follow-up’ symptoms besides headaches, such as:
- nausea and vomiting
- changes in vision
- changes in hearing
- changes in behavior
- personality changes
- numbness of arms or legs
- difficulty speaking, finding the words to express yourself (This is called aphasia- speech disorders).
Generally, it is believed that these headaches occur in the morning, and there are instances of the pain being severe enough to wake the patient from sleep. Usually, they wade as time passes, leaving the patient tired, numb and aggravated. These headaches occur every day, and they are unresponsive to medication.
Once again, the headache may be caused by something other than a brain tumor. On the other hand, the characteristics of a headache that is a symptom of a brain tumor may not have anything in common with the description above.
What makes a headache more painful?
You may notice that movement makes a headache noticeably worse. For instance, if you notice that bending over, exercising, or even sneezing, coughing, shouting or singing increase the severity of the pain, this very well may be because the intracranial pressure is increasing as well. This is because the brain has no pain receptors, and the pressure put to blood vessels and nerve endings are actually causing the headache.
A migraine or a brain tumor?
If your headache changes places between left and right lobe and does not have one fixed point where it occurs, it is probably a migraine. Patients that had a history of migraines and later developed a brain tumor have reported that there is a difference between the pain that is characteristic of headaches related to brain tumor and migraines. Headaches that are unresponsive to painkillers occur most frequently in the morning, and that have changed in severity and type may be a sign of a developing brain tumor.
See a specialist
In any case, do not leave anything to chance. There have been cases of misdiagnosis, as primary care doctors may not have suspected that a brain tumor is at hand. This is not a matter of neglect or unprofessionalism, but a consequence of it being a relatively rare condition. Aside to this, the symptoms are vague enough and can be easily interpreted as symptoms of other illnesses. All in all, if you are suspicious, and the headaches do not seem to disappear, see a doctor.
It is necessary to go see a specialist in neurology and to take a CT scan or, better yet, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). If you notice that any of these symptoms became manifest over less than 6 months, it is highly recommended that you make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
Be especially cautious if you or your family member are elderly. Brain tumors usually develop between the 65 to 70 years of age, but they can also develop earlier in life. This is one more factor that makes it difficult to diagnose a brain tumor. Apparently, the symptoms can be mixed up with dementia, as speech and behavioral disorders are also common symptoms of dementia, very similar to symptoms that accompany brain tumors.
Ultimately, if the only symptom you experience is a headache, there are extremely low chances that it is caused by a brain tumor. Be sure to be on the lookout, and to visit a specialist if you have any reasonable doubts that it might be something more sinister that a migraine.