This blog, written by editorial assistant Molly, explains what the symptoms of brain tumours can be. If you are worried about any of the symptoms listed here, it’s important that you see your GP.

This week is the 13th International Brain Tumour Awareness Week. This time last year, we posted a blog about what brain tumours are, which you can read here. This year, we'll be talking about what the symptoms of a brain tumour can be.

What is a brain tumour?
A brain tumour is a tumour that starts to grow in the brain. There are many different types of brain tumours. They are often named after the cell they develop from or the part of the brain they start in.

Brain tumours are described in terms of how slowly or quickly it grows, which is called the grade. They can be low-grade or high-grade. Low-grade tumours are sometimes called benign tumours and high-grade tumours are sometimes called malignant tumours.

What are the symptoms to look out for?
Because the brain is such a complicated part of the body, brain tumours can have many different symptoms. These depend on where the tumour is in the brain and how slowly or quickly it grows. They may develop suddenly or slowly over months or even years.
We will list the most common ones here. But you can find a list of possible symptoms that relate to the position of the tumour here.

If you are worried about any of the following symptoms, it is important that you visit your GP. 

Headaches
A brain tumour will often cause headaches, but it’s unusual for this to be the only symptom. Headaches are usually dull and constant, and sometimes throbbing. Most people get headaches from time to time, often because of stress or tension. But It is very important you see a doctor if your headaches wake you up at night or are worse in the morning. And especially if you also feel sick or notice a change in your eyesight.

Symptoms of increased pressure inside the skull
Some tumours can increase the pressure inside the skull. This may be due to the size of the tumour or because the tumour is blocking the flow of fluid in the brain.

The most common symptoms of increased pressure inside the skull are:

  • headaches
  • feeling sick
  • vomiting.

The headache may be worse in the morning or get worse when you cough, sneeze or bend down. Increased pressure can also cause symptoms, such as changes to your sight, feeling confused or problems with your balance.

A quote from Vivek about his symptoms. I went to the opticians because I had a big blind spot in my left eye. They then sent me to hospital for a scan, which showed there was a brain tumour.

Seizures (fits)
With some seizures:

  • you may go blank and stop responding to people around you for seconds or minutes
  • you might notice odd smells and sensations
  • your muscles might relax and tighten so your body stiffens and jerks or twitches or you fall
  • you might bite your tongue or cheek
  • you might lose consciousness or stop responding to people around you for a few minutes.

Having a seizure can be frightening for you and people close to you, especially the first time it happens. After a seizure, you may feel very tired and sometimes a bit confused for a short while. Try to rest and give yourself time to recover. 

Changes in personality, behaviour or thinking
Some people have problems with their thinking, reasoning or memory. Sometimes family members or close friends are first to notice if this happens.
A quote from Tess about her seizure symptoms. As the tumour grew, the seizures got worse. I’d completely zone out and wouldn’t be able to continue a conversation. I found it really frustrating and tiring.

What to do next?
These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. Headaches, especially, are often a common symptom of stress.
But if you have, or are worried about, any of these symptoms, you should always see your GP.

You can read more about primary brain tumours and the symptoms in our booklet Understanding primary brain tumours. Or you can visit our website where we have information on the different types of brain tumours.  You might also want to read Vivek’s story to learn about his brain tumour diagnosis.

For advice and support, you can call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm.  

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