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Identifying the Symptoms of Brain Tumors

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 10/16/2010

What do brain tumor headaches feel like? Ones that are worse in the morning and are coupled with nausea and weakness can be the first symptom of a brain tumor. Learn about the other brain tumor warning signs, like seizures and memory problems, and the difference between the two brain tumor types.

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    Introduction

    Brain tumors, whether benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous), are formed from abnormal brain cells. MedlinePlus states that brain tumors can destroy brain cells through tissue inflammation and pressure on the brain and skull. Headaches are one of the possible symptoms of a tumor, though they differ from other types of headaches.

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    Brain Tumor Types

    Brain tumors can be split into two categories: primary brain tumors and secondary brain tumors. Primary tumors start in the brain; MedlinePlus states that gliomas and meningiomas are the most common types of primary brain tumors. Gliomas begin in the glial cells, such as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes; meningiomas begin in the meninges, the membranes that form around the brain and spinal cord. Secondary tumors start from other cancers in the brain, and are the most common type of brain tumor; MedlinePlus notes that lung cancer, breast cancer, testicular cancer, germ cell tumors, melanoma and kidney cancer can cause a metastasis in the brain.

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    What Do Brain Tumor Headaches Feel Like?

    The American Brain Tumor Association states that a headache is the most common first symptom of a brain tumor; however, the headaches for a brain tumor are different from other types of headaches. What do brain tumor headaches feel like? A brain tumor headache is worse in the morning, and becomes better throughout the day. The headaches are also severe enough to awaken the patient from sleep; in those cases, the American Brain Tumor Association adds that the patient may feel better after vomiting. Headaches also become worse when the patient changes position, coughs, or is physically active. MedlinePlus adds that these headaches can also be accompanied with confusion, double vision, weakness and numbness. The Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute notes that the headaches are throbbing and resemble migraines. Another factor that separates brain tumor headaches from other headaches is that these headaches do not respond to usual headache treatments, like over-the-counter medications.

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    Brain Tumor Warning Signs

    The Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute adds that certain warning signs may appear along with these headaches. If a patient notices any of these, she should seek immediate medical attention. Warning signs include a change in previous headache patterns, motor weakness, sensory problems, and visual symptoms.

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    Other Brain Tumor Symptoms

    A severe headache is not the only symptom a brain tumor patient may have; some patients may have no headaches, and experience other symptoms instead. MedlinePlus states that a brain tumor patient may experience changes in mental function, such as problems with memory and concentration, weakness in one side of the body, and seizures. Emotional changes are also possible, such as rapid mood changes. Movement problems can also occur, include coordination problems, hand tremors, and trouble walking. Other symptoms include a high fever, lethargy, abnormal pupil size, and speech, vision, hearing, tasting, and smelling problems.

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    References

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Brain Tumor – Primary – Adult

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007222.htm

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Metastatic Brain Tumor

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000769.htm

    American Brain Tumor Association: Brain Tumor Symptoms

    http://www.abta.org/symptoms/13

    Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute: What Symptoms Differentiate a Brain Tumor From Other Headaches?

    http://www.mhni.com/faqs_brain_tumor.aspx#symptoms