What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

Brain tumors may have a variety of symptoms ranging from headache to stroke. Different parts of the brain control different functions, so symptoms will vary depending on the tumor's location. Brain tumors are great mimics of other neurological disorders, and many of the common symptoms could indicate other medical conditions. The best way to determine if you or someone you know has a brain tumor is to have a doctor perform a type of brain scan called an MRI or a scan called a CT scan It is sometimes hard to know whether a CT scan or MRI should be done if someone you know has some of the symptoms and signs noted below, but it is important to know that these studies will usually establish whether a brain tumor is behind them. If you are truly concerned, be sure to discuss your concerns with a physician.
Possible symptoms of a brain tumor include:
  • A new seizure in an adult
  • Gradual loss of movement or sensation in an arm or leg
  • Unsteadiness or imbalance, especially if it is associated with headache
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes, especially if the vision loss is more peripheral
  • Double vision, especially if it is associated with headache
  • Hearing loss with or without dizziness
  • Speech difficulty of gradual onset
Other symptoms may also include nausea or vomiting that is most severe in the morning, confusion and disorientation, and memory loss.
The following symptoms are usually not caused by a brain tumor, but may sometimes be:
  • Headache: Although headaches are probably the most common symptom of a brain tumor, most people with headaches – even persistent or severe headaches – do not have a tumor. However, some kinds of headaches are particularly worrisome. A steady headache that is worse in the morning than the afternoon, a persistent headache that is associated with nausea or vomiting, or a headache accompanied by double vision, weakness, or numbness all suggest a possible tumor.
  • A change in behavior: The development of an "I don't care" attitude, memory loss, loss of concentration, and general confusion may all be subtle signs. In this case, an evaluation by a neurologist may be an important step, but a CT or MRI will also help.
  • Infertility or abnormal cessation of menstruation (also known as amenorrhea)
  • Troubles that seem to be caused by other diseases or concerns: A seizure that results from a fall or the discovery of what appears to be a subarachnoid hemorrhage (a type of stroke) may actually be caused by tumors.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know might have a brain tumor, call your doctor. If symptoms persist, an MRI or CT scan can facilitate the diagnosis. Early detection and treatment may increase survival.

With grateful acknowledgment of the content provided by Peter McL. Black, M.D., Ph.D., Neurosurgeon-in-Chief at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

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