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Frequent Headaches? Is It an Indication for Brain Tumor?

By Dr. Arun Saroha in Neurosciences , Neurosurgery

Nov 09 , 2020 | 3 min read

When headaches become frequent and worse over time, it is only natural to think of it as something serious, such as a brain tumor. It is true that a recurring headache can be an indication of a brain tumor; however, it is important to know that tumor-related headaches have distinct characteristics. In addition, one must also know brain tumors have become increasingly common and should be of concern when the severity of headaches changes with time and they become too frequent.

Facts About Brain Tumor

  • Brain tumor commonly affects those who fall in the age bracket of 40 to 60 years
  • A brain tumor only causes a headache when the tumor is large enough to press the vessels and nerves that lead to pain.
  • Tumors (primary brain tumors) that start in the brain are less common when compared to those that travel to the brain from distant sites (metastatic brain tumors)
  • Increased intracranial pressure (ICP) is another factor associated with headaches in people suffering from brain tumors. It occurs due to excess fluid, brain swelling, or abnormal growth in the brain.

What Does Brain Tumor Pain Feel Like?

Dr. Arun Saroha, Director – Neurosurgery, Max Hospital, Gurgaon describes the pain as dull, throbbing, or aching and similar to a tension-type headache or a migraine. With time, the headache becomes frequent and severe. Furthermore, the severity increases with changes in position. For example, a brain tumor headache may increase when sleeping. In addition, the pain intensifies when sneezing or coughing. As brain tumor is complex disease, it is important to know that the intensity of a headache may be different in each person. This difference is primarily because of the location, size of the tumor, and the rate at which it is growing. 

When Should You Be Concerned?

Though headaches are likely to be because of other less-serious conditions like allergies, migraines, or tension, they become a reason to worry about when accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Problems in vision
  • Feeling of numbness in the legs and arms
  • Speech difficulties

Any headache followed by these symptoms should be a matter of worry, and that is when we at Max Healthcare recommended you get examined by a neurologist in Gurgaon. The doctor will conduct imaging tests including a CT scan or an MRI and would recommend the brain tumor treatment if the tests are positive.

Things to Do Before Meeting a Doctor

The doctor may ask several questions related to a headache and the symptoms followed by it. We advise you to note down all the symptoms as they can be easily forgotten over a period of time. Also, make a note of things that trigger a headache and make it worse. When explaining to the doctor your condition, be as accurate as possible.

Questions the Doctor May Ask

Here are a few questions that the doctor may ask to diagnose the condition well and to take it further with the right treatment.

Are these headaches recent or do you usually get them?

If you do not get headaches normally and this is a rather new condition, the doctor may suspect something serious. On the other hand, if you previously also had headaches, but the severity and location have changed and are followed by other symptoms as well, it may also be of concern.

Overall, any change in the pattern or sudden new development of a severe headache can be because of a brain tumor. Also read the about the different types of headache and their treatments.

What medications do you take?

Be honest when the doctor asks about the medicines that help calm down the pain. Whether you are taking OTC medication or those prescribed by your general physician, be open to the doctor. Basis the medicines you are taking, the doctor will be able to judge better how your headaches react to the medications. Characteristically, any headache that is because of a brain tumor will show no signs of relief by medications. When both prescribed and OTC medicines are not relieving the pain, something more serious than a migraine or a tension-type headache is present.

What makes a headache worse or better?

Your notes will help you here. If a headache gets triggered or worsens when you cough, sneeze or bend over, be sure of letting the doctor know about these situations. These movements, when triggering a headache are majorly brain-tumor related and require special imaging tests like MRI or CT. These tests further identify if a brain tumor is the cause of these headaches.