Seizures appear to be the biggest reason people suspect brain tumor. Other symptoms of brain tumor include nausea, persistent headaches, vision problems, and fatigue. As brain is the control center responsible for the functioning of various body parts, depending on the exact location of the tumor, patients may experience loss of memory, personality change, abnormal changes in body (such as abnormally large limbs and growth of breasts in men), communication skills, and balance. These symptoms alone may not be sufficient to detect a brain tumor; an MRO or CT scan is required.
The term brain tumor may sound bit scary and even devastating for some. It’s basically an abnormal growth of cells inside your brain, which leads to the development of brain tumor. A brain tumor can be malignant-with cancer cells, or may be benign-that is, without cancer cells. Proper understanding of brain tumor symptoms early can ensure a better shot at the most positive outcome.
But in order to comprehend brain tumor symptoms, it’s important to understand the exact location of the tumor. A tumor is formed due to abnormal division of cells; so as neurons in brain cannot divide, one may not get a nerve cell tumor. But cells present in the meninges (the outer covering of the brain), the cells in pineal and pituitary glands and the glial cells surrounding the neurons do. More than 127 types of brain tumors have already been identified till date.
Another way a person could get brain tumor is when tumor in some other body part start spreading and ultimately travels to the brain.
Brain tumor symptoms depend upon their location in the brain or the exact pressure they exert on the areas in the brain. This is the main reason why symptoms vary from one person to another.
There is a limited space in your skull as it’s impossible for it to expand. And any kind of tumor, small or big, will definitely increase pressure inside the skull (cranum) and on the brain. Symptoms due to brain tumor are either due to intracranial pressure (ICP) or due to their location.
Since different areas of the brain control different body parts and their functioning, the symptoms or brain tumor may differ depending upon their location. Common symptoms of brain tumor are:
Intense Fatigue Despite Sound Sleep
Mostly you will feel sleepy even when you’ve had extra sleep. Your lethargy and fatigue level will also be high.
There will be extreme weariness of the body. It may be due to headache, seizures, or nausea or maybe because your body is using most of its energy stores to fight the tumors. Also, tumors make even simple looking tasks impossible, the extra amount of effort and concentration you need to put in everything may ultimately tire you out.
This sense of fatigue remains there even after sound sleep or rest, even as the tumor grows, you might be sleeping more than usual during the day. The tiredness is often accompanied by irritability, apathy, negative feelings, or depression about yourself and others.
Inexplicable Headaches And Resistance To Medicines
A persistent headache that fails to go away with medication may be a sign of brain tumor, although its not the first sign. About 54 percent of all tumor patients complain of intense headaches but rarely at the tumor onset. Either the tumor blocks the drainage of cerebrospinal fluid and increases the ICP or puts pressure on the brain, which results in headaches.
It’s not easy to differentiate between a normal headache and a tumor-related headache you might get because of the flu, migraine, or sinus.
Watch out for persistent, new headache that is worse when you bend, cough, or sneeze and doesn’t improve with regular headache medicines.
The pain in the head may be throbbing and may resemble a migraine or maybe even a tension headache.
It was believed that mostly tumor headache is worst in the early morning and may get better with the day, but this is not always true.
The pain shoots up when you do some work that increases pressure on the head, say bending, sneezing, or coughing.
It may be accompanied by vomiting and nausea.
OTC medicines, sleep and rest do not help.
Seizures: Mostly Partial
Seizures is one of the commonest symptom of brain tumor, with about 67 percent patients experiencing them. They occur mostly when tumor is located in the central part of the brain and has many lesions and slow growth rate.
If you’ve no history of seizures, it’s best time to get it checked by doctor to rule out any possibility of brain tumor.
They are most common in cases of convexity meningiomas (tumors on the meninges), slowly growing gliomas (tumors in the glial cells), brain stem tumors, and when tumor starts spreading to nearby cells after metastasizing.
Seizures occur when tumor interferes with the electric signals traveling between nerve cells, either intensifying or disrupting them. Depending upon the location, the seizures may affect the entire body, can be generalized, or partial, resulting in spasms in specific groups of muscles or may affect specific nerves.
Sometimes, seizures may affect you in a strange way that you won’t be able to properly describe afterward. In some cases, it’s difficult for you to recall that phase later. They are known as focal seizures.
Partial seizures are very common in initial stages. Some may notice a warning signal before the actual seizure occurs, like a nausea, headache, or dizziness.
Persistent And Inexplicable Vomiting
If you’re actually throwing up or feel like throwing up without any problem in your digestive system, check if they occur with a headache or any problem with your vision.
Persistent nausea or vomiting, without any apparent reason, especially when you change position or early in the morning can be a sign of brain tumor. Vomiting is mainly due to raised pressure inside the skull, which is the main reason why movement triggers it.
In a study on 312 brain tumor patients with primary and metastatic tumors, 39 percent complained of nausea and vomiting.
This clearly shows that vomiting is definitely a common sign across various brain tumor stages. It’s actually a symptom of tumor that occurs in cerebellum. However, if its there without any symptoms, we may often misdiagnose vomiting a some problem in the digestive system.
Speech And Hearing: Difficulty Speaking Meaningfully
Forgetting words, stuttering, and speaking meaningless sentences, are clear signs of aphasia and dysphasia, which can be caused by tumors in temporal, frontal, and parietal lobes.
Mostly a sudden loss of communication skills indicates a brain tumor. You may stutter, slur, grope for appropriate words, speak haltingly, forget names of common objects, muddle words, and be unable to string meaningful sentences together.
Sometimes, you may be able to speak fluently, but most of your speech will be filled with many “non-words”. You may also be able to write but not read out all that you’ve written. All these symptoms also indicate a migraine attack or stroke. All these are serious medical conditions and need urgent attention.
So how does your language get affected by a tumor? There are two speech centers in your brain and tumor in any of these lobes makes conversions cumbersome.
Wernicke’s area close to the temporal lobe helps you understand language and successfully decipher others’ speech
Broca’s area close to the frontal lobe helps in speech production so that you can speak meaningfully and fluently
This kind of difficulty in using and comprehending language is knows as aphasia or dysphasia.
You may have some difficulty in repeating after others if there is a tumor in parietal lobe and effects the inferior parietal lobule, another important area associated with speech repetition and speech reproduction.
Abnormal Physiological Changes: Irregular Periods And Large Limbs
If your feet and hands are suddenly increasing in size, even after you’re past your growth years, scan for a pituitary tumor.
A pituitary gland tumor can cause irregular periods, development of breasts in men, excessive production of breast milk, and excessive body hair. It can also lead to enlargement of your feet and hands, changes in your blood pressure, and obesity. A drooping mouth or drooping eyelid can indicate a tumor in the brain stem.
Who all are Susceptible to Brain Tumors?
Usually brain tumors develop in people above 50 years of age. If your brain has been exposed to radiation, say, during your job or during radiotherapy or you’ve a family history of brain tumors, you might be at higher risk.
Genetic conditions such as TUrcot syndrome, neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Gorlin syndrome, and Li-Fraumeni cancer syndrome are all associated with brain tumors that tend to develop in early childhood or adulthood.
Malignant brain tumors may develop when cancer in some part of the body spreads out to the brain. Sometimes benign brain tumors turn malignant.
Vision Problems: Double Vision Or Loss Of Vision
Seeing everything double, seeing floating images in front of your eyes, or losing your vision on and off are all indicators of a tumor in different areas of the brain.
Vision loss, blurred sight that comes and goes, or when you start seeing floating shapes like thin strands or small dots in front of your eyes, it indicates a tumor.
A tumor in the brain stem may cause double vision.
A tumor in the occipital lobe means loss of vision in both or sometimes just one eye.
Sometimes, twitching or flickering eyes may also be a sign of a tumor in the cerebellum
Adenomas or pituitary tumors affect the optic nerve and may lead to loss of vision, which means your peripheral vision will decline. In other words, if you’re staring straight ahead, you will just be able to see things directly in front of you and not sideways, almost as if you’re seeing through a tunnel. This type of vision loss is also called as tunnel vision.
Personality Change: Aggression Or Depression
A tumor that is present in the frontal lobe (area that controls personality), can easily make a person behave inappropriately in certain social situations, like becoming violent or swearing.
Depending upon the growth rate and location of the tumor, our personality traits may change subtly or noticeably. Sudden personality changes are visible due to fast-growing tumor in the frontal lobe, making you feel easily depressed, irritated, and confused.
There’s a possibility that you can turn aggressive, even if you don’t have any history of aggressive behavior. You may also behave in socially or culturally inappropriate ways. This is mainly because brain’s frontal lobe is responsible for your personality traits. When a tumor is there it affects quality of nerve signals in the area of the brain, and you will lose control over impulses and emotions and will find it difficult to adjust behavior according to the environment.
Memory Loss: Registering Or Recalling Information
You can forget people, objects, events, or even places you knew before you got the tumor (long-term memory) or forget information about events that may have happened even since you’ve got your tumor (short-term memory).
If there’s a brain tumor in the temporal or the frontal lobes, it may affect your memory of people, objects, events or places in your life. The inability to recall information that you knew before you had brain tumor is referred to as retrograde amnesia.
In some cases, it’s impossible to remember anything that has happened since the brain tumor developed. This kind of inability to process latest information is called anterograde amnesia. Sadly, memory loss could also be due to the effects of treatment of brain tumor.
Clumsiness: Loss Of Coordination And Balance
Lack of coordination in the limbs, loss of balance, weakness or numbness in one side of the body, or trouble swallowing can be due to brain tumors.
If you are not able to maintain proper balance while traveling or have difficulty in coordinating your legs or hands, it might be a symptom of brain tumor. This may be due to tumor in cerebellum, the parietal lobe, the primary motor cortex, all of which are responsible in many different ways for the coordination of movements. A brain stem tumor may affect hearing and may also contribute to loss of balance.
If you feel your clumsiness is due to weakness or numbness in one side of your body, it might be due to tumor in the parietal lobe. As frontal lobe and the brain stem control the muscular movements related to speaking and swallowing, respectively, you will also have trouble with these activities if you get tumors in those areas.
Your Treatment Options
You must remember that some of the symptoms discussed here can also be caused by many other conditions and are sometimes due to some deficiencies. So, you should not panic. However, it’s always a good idea to immediately get yourself checked if you have persistent symptoms instead of taking your headache as recurring migraine.
Your doctor may carry out a neurological exam and tests such as MRI, CT scan, or a biopsy. Treatment of brain tumor can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy (where substances that target cancer cells and may leave normal cells unharmed are used for cancer treatment), surgery, or a combination of these.