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Around 50% of people who are diagnosed with a brain tumour said headaches were one of the complaints they went to the doctor with.
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of a brain tumour, but they are also common in healthy people, and can be due to many everyday causes.
The headaches are not caused directly by the tumour itself, as the brain has no pain receptors, but by a build-up of pressure on pain-sensitive blood vessels and nerves within the brain.
The build-up of pressure can be due to the tumour pressing on these vessels/nerves or by the tumour blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the brain.
Headaches are rarely the only symptom of a brain tumour.
Doctors do NOT generally worry if your headache is:
However, people often worry whether their headache is due to something more serious, such as a brain tumour, particularly if they have frequent or severe headaches causing a lot of pain.
If you're worried, you should speak to your doctor, who can undertake a neurological examination. This involves testing your vision, hearing, balance, reflexes, arm and leg strength, and coordination. If this examination does not show anything outside the normal range and you have no other symptoms, you are unlikely to have a brain tumour.
Headaches associated with brain tumours (tumors) are usually:
Headaches associated with brain tumours:
Other features of headaches have been identified as "red flags," which may suggest a brain tumour. These include:
It is important to remember that all these symptoms can frequently occur in harmless headaches.
Brain tumours are rare, however, if you're worried, if a symptom persists or if you have more than one of these symptoms then you may want to speak to a healthcare profession.
Talk to your GP
GP appointments are usually quite short, find out how to best prepare for your appointment with our guide to talking to your doctor.
Get an eye test
If your symptoms are limited to changes in vision and/or headaches, get your eyes tested by an optician before seeing your GP.
Other types of headaches include:
For more information about these and other headache types, see the National Headache Foundation's Complete Headache Chart.
Call 999 or go to A&E at your hospital if:
This does not mean it is a brain tumour, but it could be another serious complaint that needs immediate treatment.
Call your doctor, NHS 111 or Out-of-Hours Service if you are not sure what to do.
For signs and symptoms to be aware of in children of different ages, including persistent or recurring headaches, visit our HeadSmart website.
Below are some suggestions to help manage and treat headache pain that people with brain tumours can experience:
Symptoms can change over time. Be sure to tell any your doctor or nurse as soon as possible about any new symptoms or changes in existing symptoms.
In your headache diary, as well as when you have headaches (days & time), it can be useful to record the following for each headache:
There are many different types of headache. Migraines are one type.
A migraine is usually a moderate to severe throbbing headache often on one side of the head, and accompanied by other symptoms, such as visual disturbances (called an aura), sensitivity to light, sound or smells, and nausea or vomiting. They tend to last from 4 – 72 hours.
People who get migraines, or other recurrent headaches, often worry that they may have a brain tumour.
It is important to remember that migraines are common, affecting around 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men, while brain tumours are rare. So it is unlikely that your headaches are due to a brain tumour.
However, you should see your doctor if your headaches include the symptoms of brain tumour headaches as described on this page. Or if you:
If you experience any of these, it does not necessarily mean you have a brain tumour, but it is important to get an accurate diagnosis to rule out possible serious causes and also to get advice on managing your symptoms.
Keep a headache diary to take to your doctors to help with the diagnosis.