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Brain Tumour Symptoms

Just 1% of the national research spend has been allocated to this devastating disease

What are the symptoms of a brain tumour?

The symptoms of a brain tumour will depend upon which part of the brain is affected. The most common symptoms are caused by an increase in pressure in the skull (intracranial pressure) caused by the growth of a tumour in the brain.

Are headaches caused by a brain tumour?

Headaches are one of the main symptoms of a brain tumour, but of course there can be many reasons for having a headache. Headaches caused by a brain tumour tend to:

  • Be severe and persistent
  • Often worse in the morning
  • Get worse over a number of days
  • Give stabbing pains if you do anything that increases the pressure in your head, for example coughing, shouting, bending over or doing exercise.

Eye symptoms of a brain tumour

Please remember that there are many reasons why people display these eye and vision-related symptoms, but if any of these symptoms have come on suddenly they may be caused by a blood clot or infections such as meningitis or encephalitis, so it is worth seeking medical advice as a matter of urgency.

  • Squinting
  • Worsening vision
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Restricted field of vision, loss of peripheral vision, blind spots
  • Problems with looking upwards or controlling eye movements
  • Abnormal eye movements such as flickering eyes
  • Head tilt, usually because the patient is turning to see things out of the corner of their eye rather than looking straight at them
  • Brief loss, blurring or “greying out” of vision, sometimes triggered by coughing, sneezing or bending down
  • As the tumour grows, it may cause the eyeball to bulge forwards. This is known as proptosis.

It is always worth seeing both your GP and an optometrist (optician) to investigate such symptoms. If your doctor suspects the presence of a brain tumour, they will immediately refer you for a scan at a hospital in order to be sure whether or not one is present.

How can an eye test detect a brain tumour?

A regular, routine eye test can sometimes detect eye problems that indicate the presence of a brain tumour before any symptoms become obvious.

An eye test is particularly good at identifying any swelling of the optic disc (a condition called papilloedema) and can also identify when there is pressure on the optic nerve. Both of these conditions can be caused by intracranial hypertension (IH), which means a build-up of pressure around the brain, indicating that something is interfering with the normal circulation of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), or sometimes that there is direct pressure on the optic nerve if a tumour is present in this area.

Symptoms such as unusual dilation of the pupil in one or both eyes, and the colour of the optic nerve, can also indicate that further investigations are required. A test that checks your visual fields may also be useful to include within your eye examination.

Discover more about how a brain tumour is diagnosed.

What are the other brain tumour symptoms?

Other common symptoms, which may initially come and go, include one or more of the following:

  • Continuing nausea, vomiting 
  • Extreme or sudden drowsiness
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or hearing loss 
  • Unexplained twitches of the face or limbs
  • Seizures (fits or faints)
  • Appearing to be lost in a deep daydream for a short while
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, especially if progressive and leading to paralysis
  • Numbness or weakness in a part of the face, so that the muscles drop slightly
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body, resulting in stumbling or lack of co-ordination
  • Changes in personality or behaviour
  • Impaired memory or mental ability, which may be very subtle to begin with
  • Changes in senses, including smell
  • Problems with speech, writing or drawing
  • Loss of concentration or difficulty in concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns

Brain tumours that affect the pituitary gland

Because the pituitary gland has such varied functions, tumours in this area can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are often due to changes in the levels of the hormones that the gland produces and there is a range of reasons why those hormone levels may fluctuate, hence delaying the diagnosis of a tumour.

Symptoms caused by hormonal fluctuations include:

  • Delayed puberty in children
  • Changes in menstrual periods or early menopause in women
  • Increased or decreased sexual drive
  • Extreme growth spurts in both children and adults, particularly of either hands or feet
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss, sometimes combined with a loss of appetite
  • Extreme tiredness and/or listlessness
  • Personality changes such as hostility, depression, anxiety
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of muscle mass in adults
  • Easy bruising of the skin, often combined with muscle weakness
  • Diabetes insipidus, caused by problems with a hormone called vasopressin (AVP), commonly known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH). Symptoms are extreme thirst and/or excessive urination

Professional medical advice should be sought to check the cause of these symptoms as soon as possible, although they are also more commonly symptomatic of other illnesses or diseases.

However, if no definite alternative cause for your symptoms can be found and if you suspect something is really wrong, and if you’re experiencing a combination of these brain tumour symptoms together or in succession, then insist that you or your family member gets referred to a neurologist (a brain and nervous system specialist) and for an MRI scan. Early detection and treatment may avoid acute complications later on.

Discover how a brain tumour is diagnosed.