Brain tumors are one of the most feared and misunderstood conditions in medicine. They’re defined as an unusual growth of cells in an area of the brain. They can be either malignant or benign, and they grow at very different rates. The best way to treat them depends on multiple factors.
The symptoms differ as well, but one that crops up quite frequently is headaches. Many people believe frequent headaches are an early giveaway of a brain tumor, but the vast majority of headaches are unrelated to any serious issue in the brain.
However, some types of headaches can be an early warning sign of a tumor, and knowing the right signs can make a big difference.
Do Brain Tumors Cause Headaches?
Headaches are a common symptom and have many causes – most of which do not require medical intervention. People have reported headaches to be associated with fatigue, stress, overexertion, or eating food that doesn’t agree with them.
They can also be caused by external sources like loud or repetitive noise. They can be a side effect of medicine or vaccines, and most go away after a good night’s sleep or through over-the-counter medication.
So why do so many people believe brain tumors cause headaches? One reason is probably the increased popularity of self-diagnosis via online websites, which often leads to finding the article with the most dire cause for a common symptom.
The dramatic outlier is always more attention-getting than the regular cause. But while all headaches are not a symptom of brain tumors, many brain tumors do cause headaches – and they often have some tell-tale signs that set them apart from other headaches.
Brain tumors place pressure on the brain, and this can lead to focused, intense headaches in new places. The most common headaches are low-grade and impact multiple areas of the brain, while brain tumor headaches are more focused and persist with increased severity.
They can also come with other symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, or seizures. If any of these symptoms are common in headaches, it’s best to investigate with a doctor to rule out physical causes.
When to Worry
Before worrying that a headache is related to a brain tumor, check if the following questions fit your symptoms.
- Are your headaches increasing in severity and concentrated in a specific part of your brain?
- Are they accompanied by other symptoms such as seizures, dizziness, or trouble concentrating?
- Have you noticed any changes in your personality, like mood swings or a loss of interest in your everyday activities?
- Are you having difficulty finding the right words in conversation or having other struggles with concentrating?
- Are you having vision problems, including blurred vision or impaired vision?
- Are you suffering from memory loss or finding it difficult to find the energy or focus on performing daily activities?
- Are you tripping more often or finding it challenging to keep your balance?
- Are you having trouble keeping food down or suffering from persistent nausea?
- Do you experience tingling or stiffness in any part of your body, usually on one side?
How to Reduce Risk
Not all tumors are cancerous, and there is no foolproof way to prevent cancer or tumors. However, taking some common-sense steps can improve your odds of that headache being nothing to worry about. One of the most recommended ways to reduce your risk of brain tumors is to limit radiation exposure to your head. This can involve wearing protective gear if you’re near machines that produce radiation regularly.
Many people also try to keep their phone or other electronic devices away from the head, although there is no concrete link proven there yet. The risk of developing cancer from tests like x-rays or CT scans is minimal, and the benefit of radiation treatment from other types of cancer far outweighs any risk.
Beyond this, the best strategy is to maintain general good health practices. Eat well, keep track of your nutrition, and maintain healthy sleep habits. Not only will this improve your overall health, but it will reduce your risk of headaches as a whole and make it more likely you’ll notice any danger signs before the tumor has time to grow.
Most headaches are nothing to worry about, and you don’t need to sound the alarm every time you get one. But certain headache symptoms can be linked to brain tumors. Knowing those symptoms is critical to identify problems early and get treatment while a tumor is still manageable.