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Brain Tumor Symptoms


Brain tumor symptoms vary from patient to patient, and most of these symptoms can
also be found in people who do NOT have brain tumors. Therefore, the only sure way to tell
if you have a brain tumor or not is to see your doctor and get a brain scan.
I did a survey of about 375 brain tumor patients to learn what symptoms they had
that caused them to seek medical care. You can see the full results by clicking here. The
survey is ongoing, and you can participate by going to symptomssurvey.cfm. The results
below are as of 2/25/2003.
They reported:
l

Headaches: This was the most common symptom, with 46% of the patients reporting having
headaches. They described the headaches in many different ways, with no one pattern being a
sure sign of brain tumor. Many - perhaps most - people get headaches at some point in their
life, so this is not a definite sign of brain tumors. You should mention it to your doctors if the
headaches are: different from those you ever had before, are accompanied by nausea /
vomiting, are made worse by bending over or straining when going to the bathroom.(1)

Seizures: This was the second most common symptom reported, with 33% of the patients
reporting a seizure before the diagnosis was made. Seizures can also be caused by other
things, like epilepsy, high fevers, stroke, trauma, and other disorders. (3) This is a symptom
that should never be ignored, whatever the cause. In a person who never had a seizure before,
it usually indicates something serious and you must get a brain scan.
A seizure is a sudden, involuntary change in behavior, muscle control, consciousness, and/or
sensation. Symptoms of a seizure can range from sudden, violent shaking and total loss of
consciousness to muscle twitching or slight shaking of a limb. Staring into space, altered
vision, and difficulty in speaking are some of the other behaviors that a person may exhibit
while having a seizure. Approximately 10% of the U.S. population will experience a single
seizure in their lifetime.

Nausea and Vomiting: As with headaches, these are non-specific - which means that most
people who have nausea and vomiting do NOT have a brain tumor. Twenty-two percent of the

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Brain Tumor Symptoms

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people in our survey reported that they had nausea and /or vomiting as a symptom.
Nausea and / or vomiting is more likely to point towards a brain tumor if it is accompanied by
the other symptoms mentioned here.
l

Vision or hearing problems: Twenty-five percent reported vision problems. This one is easy
- if you notice any problem with your hearing or vision, it must be checked out. I commonly
hear that the eye doctor is the first one to make the diagnosis - because when they look in
your eyes, they can sometimes see signs of increased intracranial pressure. This must be
investigated.

Problems with weakness of the arms, legs or face muscles, and strange sensations in
your head or hands. Twenty-five percent reported weakness of the arms and/or legs. Sixteen
percent reported strange feelings in the head, and 9% reported strange feelings in the hands.
This may result in an altered gait, dropping objects, falling, or an asymmetric facial expression.
These could also be symptoms of a stroke. Sudden onset of these symptoms is an emergency you should go to the emergency room. If you notice a gradual change over time, you must
report it to your doctor.

Behavioral and cognitive problems: Many reported behavioral and cognitive changes, such
as: problems with recent memory, inability to concentrate or finding the right words, acting
out - no patience or tolerance, and loss of inhibitions - saying or doing things that are not
appropriate for the situation.

IF you think something is wrong, go see your doctor. Explain that you are worried it
is a brain tumor. Keep in mind that brain tumors are relatively rare compared to most
other disorders, so the primary care doctor is not usually going to be thinking it is a brain
tumor. They first think of more common causes of the symptoms. Sixty-four percent of the
time, the doctor thought it was NOT a brain tumor when respondents first went to the
doctor. More than half of the people reported that they had the symptoms for more than a
month before the correct diagnosis of brain tumor was made. With the malignant brain
tumors, a delay of a month in starting treatment can make a major impact on the outcome.
There is a more detailed paper on brain tumor symptoms at:
http://virtualtrials.com/symptoms.pdf

References: (Click on the links to get more information)


1. NINDS Brain and Spinal Tumors Information Page
2. The Causes of Seizures and Seizure-like Episodes
3. Epilepsy Foundation
Last updated: 3/24/2006 by Al Musella, DPM

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