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Symptoms

Find out about possible symptoms of a brain tumour and when to see your doctor.

Brain tumours cause symptoms because:

  • they take up space inside the skull when they grow
  • they cause specific symptoms due to their position in the brain

Some symptoms of a brain tumour are very general and lots of other medical conditions can cause them. It's unlikely to be a brain tumour, but always get your symptoms checked out.

Symptoms due to increased pressure

Your skull is made of bone, so there's a fixed amount of space for the brain to take up. If there's a growing tumour it raises the pressure inside the skull.

Headaches

Headaches are a very common symptom of illness. It's unlikely you have a brain tumour if a headache is your only symptom. But see a doctor if you:

  • have very bad headaches (especially if you wake each day with a headache)
  • are having headaches more and more often
  • have headaches when you didn't have them before
  • have headaches and sickness together

You might find that anything that increases the pressure in your head can make the headache worse. This could be:

  • sneezing or coughing
  • bending over
  • exercising
  • shouting

Sickness

You might feel or be sick. This could be worse in the morning.

You might have hiccups.

Drowsiness

You might find you feel drowsy or you are sleeping more. 

You might be falling asleep during the day.

Problems with your eyes

You might find your eyesight is getting worse and glasses are not helping. Or your vision comes and goes. You might have:

  • blurred vision
  • floating shapes
  • tunnel vision

Fits (seizures)

You might have some jerking or twitching of your hand, arm or leg. Or your fit might affect your whole body.

Some fits just cause a moment of unconsciousness. 

Having a fit is very frightening. There are different causes of fits and it is important you go to your doctor if you have one.

Fits can often be controlled with anti epilepsy medicines. Or treating a brain tumour can sometimes stop the fits.

Symptoms due to the position of the tumour

Brain tumours can cause different symptoms depending on where they are in the brain.

brain tumour table

Sometimes tumours in the frontal or temporal lobes of the cerebrum can become quite large with very few symptoms.

Symptoms in older people

In elderly people, vague symptoms could be put down to getting older such as:

  • memory loss
  • personality changes
  • difficulty walking 

If several symptoms like these develop over less than 6 months, it is worth checking in with your doctor.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. It's worth bearing in mind that other medical conditions could be causing them, but it's best to get checked out.

Last reviewed: 
22 Sep 2015
  • Anatomy and Physiology in Health and Illness (11th edition)
    Ross and Wilson
    Churchill Livingstone, 2010

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2014

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, June 2015

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