Seizures, headaches and other symptoms - could you spot a brain tumour?

It’s unlikely that your nagging headache or general clumsiness is a brain tumour, but it’s worth knowing the signs of a disease that strikes 16,000 Britons every year...

If you've had a nagging headache for more than a few days, it may well have crossed your aching mind that you could be experiencing the first signs of a brain tumour.

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If you've had a nagging headache for more than a few days, it may well have crossed your aching mind that you could be experiencing the first signs of a brain tumour.

In fact, brain tumours are actually quite rare and usually have much more complex symptoms than just a standard headache.

Neurologists even say that brain tumour headaches are usually different from 'normal' headaches, and stress that most people with headaches don't have brain tumours.

But it's worth knowing the symptoms since around 16,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year in the UK alone. In fact, brain tumours the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 – although just 1% of the national spend on cancer research is allocated to them.

Why do brain tumours happen?

It's not known what causes brain tumours, which have affected celebrities including Russell Watson and Martin Kemp, as well as international stars like Seve Ballesteros, Elizabeth Taylor and Sheryl Crow.

While possible risk factors such as mobile phones have been investigated, no strong evidence has been found, says Cancer Research UK - although not enough is known yet to completely rule out a risk.

Around half of brain tumours are cancerous, and half benign – although this type of tumour can still be life-threatening because of the damage it can do to the brain.

Morning headaches

Brain tumour symptoms can vary widely depending on where in the brain the tumour is. Kevin O'Neill, a consultant neurosurgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London, says the most common signs are headaches and seizures.

“But of course headaches and seizures are reasonably common, and most people with headaches don't have a brain tumour,” he stresses.

“The worrying pattern of headaches is typically worse in the morning, perhaps waking you from sleep, and getting worse over time.

“What's key is that they're often different from your 'usual' headache - most people have had enough headaches to know what theirs feels like.”

Headaches related to brain tumours are often severe and throbbing, and are usually linked to increasing mass and pressure from the tumour. They are often worse when lying down.

Sudden seizures

Seizures, or fits, are one of the most common symptoms of a brain tumour, and around a quarter of people with a brain tumour first visit their doctor because they've had a seizure. Although most people think of seizures leading to loss of consciousness and twitching, seizures can also be far more subtle, says the Brain Tumour Charity.

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Symptoms of a seizure can include hand, arm or leg twitching, a change in sensation such as an odd taste or smell, periods of ‘absence’, or adopting an unusual posture. More subtle seizures may be noticed first by a person’s friends or relatives, as the affected person may not remember or be aware of it.

Other brian tumour symptoms

Raised pressure in the head from a brain tumour can also lead to nausea and vomiting, which may be worse in the morning, or progressive neurological problems as the tumour affects the surrounding brain.

These may include clumsiness, visual disturbance, or weakness on one side of the body, often similar to stroke symptoms.

Other signs may include changes in senses, including smell and impaired hearing, problems with speech, writing or drawing, and difficulty with averting the eyes upwards.

Many possible brain tumour symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions, but although brain tumours are rare, it's vital to get symptoms checked as soon as possible, just in case.

Get it checked out

Sarah Lindsell, chief executive of The Brain Tumour Charity advises anyone who experiences these symptoms to visit their GP.

“We hear too many stories about people who've visited their GP over months or even years before they're referred for the scan that detected their brain tumour,” she said.

“That’s why we're working hard to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours among the public and healthcare professionals.

“Early diagnosis can save lives as well as reducing the long-term harm caused by brain tumours.”

For more information, contact the Brain Tumour Charity on 0808 800 004 or visit The Brain Tumour Charity.

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