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When cells in the brain start reproducing uncontrollably, this leads to an abnormal growth in the brain referred to as a brain tumor. Two general types can be discerned:
- Benign brain tumors: these are made of harmless cells and have distinct boundaries.
- Malignant brain tumors: these may consist of bad cells (cancer cells), or they may be life-threatening due to the location. So, when a tumor is made up out of harmless cells but is found in a critical place, it is considered a malignant brain tumor.
Both of these types can cause considerable damage because they grow and interfere with the normal functioning of the brain. In addition to this, a malignant tumor can metastasize and spread throughout the central nervous system. A detailed list of symptoms can be divided in those caused by increasing intracranial pressure and those caused by the location of the tumor.
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Increased Intracranial Pressure
Within the skull, there is only a certain amount of space that can be used by the brain. A consequence of this is that as the tumor grows, so does the pressure within the skull. This increase in pressure can cause the following symptoms:
- Headaches: these are a common symptom of several illnesses, but when they get worse and more frequent, they might be indicative of a brain tumor.
- Illness: feeling ill can also be a symptom. This tends to be worse in the morning.
- Drowsiness: this usually occurs later in the tumor development and may become increasingly worse.
- Eye problems: if your sight is failing and glasses are not helping, a possible explanation is a brain tumor. Blurred vision, floating shapes, tunnel vision, and sporadic loss of vision can also occur.
- Seizures: about a quarter of the people with a brain tumor have seizures before they first consult a doctor, meaning that the sudden occurence of seizures is the symptom that, in many cases, provides the motivation to see a physician. This may mean just a twitch in an arm or leg, but can also affect the entire body. Even after successful treatment, seizures can continue due to the scar tissue in the brain.
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Influence of Location
Depending on the location of the tumor, particular symptoms can occur. As the tumor grows, it will start putting pressure on the surrounding brain tissue, and since different brain parts have different functions, the symptoms can vary greatly depending on the location. Some major areas in the brain and a detailed list of brain symptoms are:
- Frontal lobe: personality changes, problems with sight, speech, smell and movement.
- Temporal lobe: short term memory loss, difficulty remembering words.
- Parietal lobe: general difficulties speaking and understanding speech, as well as problems with reading and writing.
- Occipital lobe: problems with sight, or one-sided loss of vision.
- Cerebellum: affected coordination, dizziness.
- Brain stem: problematic coordination, difficulty swallowing and speaking.
- Spinal cord: Pain, numbness and muscle weakness.
- Pituitary gland: infertility, lack of energy, mood swings, weight gain and high blood pressure.
All the previously mentioned symptoms can, of course, have several causes. Nevertheless, if one of these occurs, consult a physician. It is better to be safe than sorry.
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- American Brain Tumor Association: http://www.abta.org/
- Cancer Research UK: http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/type/brain-tumour/about/brain-tumour-symptoms
- Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School: http://neurosurgery.mgh.harvard.edu/abta/primer.htm
- UCSF Medical Center: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/brain_tumor/signs_and_symptoms.html