Brain tumour symptoms in adults

Brain tumour symptoms can include headaches, changes to vision and nausea, but it's important to remember that brain tumours are relatively rare.

Almost 11,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year. This means that in most cases, your symptoms will not be due to a brain tumour.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumour?

Raised intracranial pressure (ICP) is the build-up of pressure inside the skull. The build-up can be fast or slow. Sometimes it is referred to as intracranial hypertension. This can lead to the follow symptoms:

Headaches

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.

Headaches associated with brain tumours (tumors) can be throbbing or a dull ache, depending on where they are in the brain. They can be worse in the morning (you may wake with one) and aggravated by straining, coughing or bending over.

Often these headaches can not be managed by pain killers, but their intensity and pain may reduce when you are stood upright and the build-up of CSF begins to drain.

Learn more about brain tumour headaches

Changes in vision

A brain tumour can affect your vision. You might experience blurred vision, making it difficult to read and watch TV. You may experience fleeting loss of vision ('greying out'), often occurring when you suddenly stand up or change posture.

Or you may find you have lost part of your field of vision. This could lead to you bumping into objects, or you could feel as if objects or people are suddenly appearing on one side of you.

Changes in vision, can be due to the optic disc at the back of your eye becoming swollen as a result of the increased pressure in the skull. This can be picked up by opticians during normal eye examinations.

Learn more about changes in vision

Seizures

Seizures, sometimes referred to as 'fits', are one of the common symptoms of a brain tumour. One quarter of people diagnosed with a brain tumour have a seizure as their first symptom. Seizures can be severe or more subtle.

Severe seizures can cause you to lose consciousness for the duration of the fit while your whole body twitches.

Subtle seizures, which are more common than severe seizures in people with brain tumours, can cause symptoms such as one of your limbs twitching, changes in sensation (e.g. taste or smell), periods of seeming absent (blank or spaced out), or adopting an unusual posture. You do not lose consciousness during a subtle seizure.

Learn more about seizures and epilepsy

Nausea (feeling sick)

Nausea, as with headaches, may be worse in the morning or if you suddenly change position e.g. move from sitting or lying to standing. You may actually be sick or just have hiccups.

Drowsiness

Drowsiness is usually a later brain tumour symptom. As the tumour grows and the pressure increases, you may sleep more than normal or find yourself falling asleep during the day.

Impairment of normal brain function

The presence of a brain tumour can cause damage to healthy brain tissue, disrupting the normal function of that area.

Brain tumour symptoms by location

Signs of brain tumours in adults can differ from person to person and with different types of brain tumour. It is important to be aware of the symptoms, so you can go to your doctor if you are concerned.

Remember that many of the symptoms due to raised intracranial pressure (ICP) can be caused by other medical conditions. So if you are experiencing these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have a brain tumour.

What should I do if I think I have a brain tumour?

Brain tumours are rare, so it's unlikely you will have a brain tumour.

However, if you're worried, if a symptom persists or if you have more than one of these symptoms, make a note of your symptoms and when you have them, and take this 'diary' along with the fact sheet, that can be downloaded below, to your doctor - you are not wasting their time.

If your symptoms are limited to changes in vision and/or headaches, get your eyes checked by an optician while you are waiting for your GP appointment.

Evidence shows that when tumours are diagnosed at an early stage, the treatment options and outcomes are greater.

Brain tumour symptoms in children

Symptoms of brain tumours vary from child to child and can often mimic those of other, relatively minor childhood illnesses.

Symptoms of brain tumours in children

How to spot possible signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children.

Types of childhood brain tumour

Learn about the different childhood brain tumours, their side effects and treatment options

Page last reviewed: 05/2018
Next review due: 05/2021

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