Signs and symptoms of primary brain tumours

Brain tumours cause different symptoms depending on where the tumour is in the brain and how slowly or quickly it grows. Symptoms can develop gradually or quickly.

Headaches are common but usually not the only symptom. If a brain tumour causes increased pressure in the skull, you may have headaches, sickness and vomiting. Some people have seizures (fits) or changes in personality, behaviour and thinking.

Other symptoms depend on the position of the tumour and how it affects that part of the brain. Depending on the area you may have problems with how you move or speak. Or you may have changes to how you feel, see or hear. Sometimes a tumour can change hormone levels. This can cause symptoms such as irregular periods, infertility, weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes or mood swings.

These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. Headaches, especially, are often a common symptom of stress. But if you have any of these symptoms always see your doctor.

Symptoms caused by primary brain tumours

Brain tumours cause different symptoms depending on where the tumour is in the brain and how slowly or quickly it grows.

As a tumour grows, it can press on or grow into nearby areas of the brain. This can cause symptoms because it stops that part of the brain from working normally. Symptoms can also happen because the tumour is increasing the pressure inside the skull. This is called raised intracranial pressure.

Symptoms may develop suddenly or slowly over months or even years.


Headaches

A brain tumour will often cause headaches, but it’s unusual for this to be the only symptom. Headaches are usually dull and constant, and sometimes throbbing.

Most people get headaches from time to time, often because of stress or tension. But if your headaches are getting worse over time or are different from your usual headaches, see your GP.

It is very important you see a doctor if your headaches wake you up at night or are worse in the morning. And especially if you also feel sick or notice a change in your eyesight.


Symptoms of increased pressure

A tumour can increase the pressure inside the skull. This is called raised intracranial pressure. It can be caused by the size of the tumour, or by swelling or blockages caused by the tumour.

The most common symptoms of this are headaches, feeling sick and vomiting. The headache may be worse in the morning or get worse when you cough, sneeze or bend down. Increased pressure can also cause symptoms, such as changes to your sight, feeling confused or problems with your balance.


Seizures

This is another common symptom of brain tumours. There are different types of seizures. With some seizures, you may go blank and stop responding to people around you for seconds or minutes. Or you might notice odd smells and sensations.

Other seizures make your muscles relax and tighten so your body stiffens and jerks or twitches or you fall down. Sometimes people bite their tongue or cheek. You might lose consciousness or stop responding to people around you for a few minutes.

Having a seizure can be frightening for you and people close to you, especially the first time it happens. After a seizure, you may feel very tired and sometimes a bit confused for a short while. Try to rest and give yourself time to recover.

If you have a seizure, your doctor will usually prescribe drugs to prevent them. These are called anti-convulsants or anti-epileptics.

As the tumour grew, the seizures got worse. I’d completely zone out and wouldn’t be able to continue a conversation. I found it really frustrating and tiring.

Tess


Changes in personality, behaviour or thinking

A tumour can cause changes in personality and behaviour. Some people have problems with their thinking, reasoning or memory. Sometimes family members or close friends are first to notice if this happens.

These changes can be upsetting. If you or someone close to you finds this difficult to cope with, there is support that can help.


Symptoms and tumour position

Different areas of the brain have different functions. A tumour may cause symptoms because its position stops a part of the brain from working normally.

Position of tumourPossible problems
Frontal lobe
  • Changes in personality or behaviour
  • Un-coordinated walking
  • Weakness on one side of the body
Parietal lobe
  • Speech and understanding
  • Writing, reading and simple calculations
  • Finding your way around
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
Temporal lobe
  • Muddled speech
  • Memory
  • Occipital lobe
  • Sight or losing part of your vision
Occipital lobe
  • Sight or losing part of your vision
Cerebellum
  • Co-ordination
  • Double vision or blurred vision
  • Unsteadiness
  • Slurred speech
Brain stem
  • Double vision
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteady or un-coordinated walking
  • Facial weakness
  • Speech or swallowing
Pituitary gland
  • Irregular periods, infertility, weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, mood swings or enlarged hands and feet (symptoms of changing hormone levels)
  • Tunnel vision (if the tumour presses on the nerves to the eyes)
Cranial nerves
  • Hearing or eyesight
  • Feeling dizzy and problems with balance
  • Pain, numbness or weakness of the face
  • Speech or swallowing

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