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When Headaches Are a Sign of a Brain Tumor

When chronic headaches become worse in frequency, severity and duration, it is just natural to wonder whether these are a sign of brain tumor.  While headaches can be a telling symptom of a brain tumor, it must be emphasized that jumping to conclusions will not do anybody good.

Keep in mind that brain tumors are still uncommon while headaches are common occurrences among individuals of all ages (i.e., almost everybody has experienced a headache in their lives).  The headaches may, for example, be a sign of other health conditions like migraines, allergies and vision issues, not to mention that headaches caused by a brain tumor have distinguishing characteristics from other types like tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches.

Causes of Headaches

In people with brain tumors, the common culprit of their headaches is increased intracranial pressure (IICP) that can also be caused by excess fluid and brain swelling aside from the abnormal mass of a tumor.  The skull only has sufficient space in it to accommodate the brain and its normal level of fluid – anything in excess increases the pressure inside of it.

Characteristics of Headaches

Contrary to popular opinion, headaches are not usually the first symptom of a brain tumor, thus, jumping to conclusions is inadvisable. The more common initial symptoms are seizures, weakness in the arms and legs, and changes in hearing and vision as well as decline in cognitive function.

About half of the individuals who have eventually been diagnosed with brain tumors suffered from headaches.  The pain has distinguishing characteristics including:

  • While the pain may neither be severe nor debilitating, it can rouse you from sleep.
  • The type of pain varies from dull to aching and throbbing.
  • The headaches become worse with time – these become more frequent, more painful, and less easily relieved even by medication and lifestyle changes.
  • The pain worsens when changing body positions especially when lying down while coughing and sneezing can increase the pain levels, too.

It must be emphasized that each person with a brain tumor experiences headaches in a different manner.  You may or may not have the abovementioned characteristics to your headaches.

Arousing Suspicions

Again, avoid jumping to conclusions because your doctor will not do so as well.  Modern medical science and technology have made it possible to make a definitive diagnosis about the presence – or absence, for that matter – of a brain tumor.  You will undergo imaging tests like CAT scan or MRI scan before your doctor makes his diagnosis.

But when you visit your doctor due to your chronic headaches, you must answer several questions related to your health issue.  You are then well-advised to keep a headache diary, which details the possible triggers and onset as well as the frequency, severity and duration of your headaches; the information will be valuable during the consultation.

Your doctor’s suspicions about the possibility of a brain tumor will be aroused when your headaches have:

  • Changed in intensity and location especially when you have previously suffered from headaches before;
  • Not been relieved by medications including prescription drugs;
  • Become worse with movement like sneezing, coughing, and bending over; and
  • Been accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting.

Keep calm when you suspect you have a brain tumor because, again, nothing good can come out of panicking.

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