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.

Around 10,600 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:

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.

Brain tumour symptoms in children are different – learn more about signs of childhood brain tumours.

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.

Headaches

Headaches associated with brain tumours (tumors) are usually severe, throbbing, worse in the morning (you may wake with one) and aggravated by straining or coughing.

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.

Changes in vision

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

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 visit their doctor for the first time after a seizure. 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 one of your limbs to twitch, changes in sensation (e.g. taste or smell), experiencing periods of 'absence', 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 feel 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.

If you have been diagnosed with a brain tumour, learn more about brain tumour side-effects.

Symptoms due to tumour position

Symptoms of a brain tumour can vary depending on the tumour's location.

Frontal lobe

A tumour located in the frontal lobe may cause difficulty with:

  • Concentrating
  • Speaking and communicating
  • Controlling emotions and behaviour
  • Learning new information

Temporal Lobe

A tumour located in the temporal lobe may cause difficulty with:

  • Hearing
  • Speaking
  • Identifying and categorising objects
  • Learning new information
  • Correctly identifying emotions in others

Parietal lobe

A tumour located in the parietal lobe may cause difficulty with:

  • Bringing together information from your different senses (touch, vision, hearing, smell, taste) and making sense of it
  • Co-ordinating movements
  • Spatial awareness e.g. judging distances, hand-eye co-ordination
  • Speaking, understanding words, writing and reading

Occipital lobe

A tumour located in the occipital lobe may cause difficulty with:

  • Vision, for example identifying objects or colours

Cerebellum

A tumour located in the cerebellum may cause difficulty with:

  • Balance
  • A loss of co-ordination
  • Difficulty walking and speaking
  • Flickering of the eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Problems with dexterity (skills in using your hands)

Brain stem

A tumour located in the brain stem may cause difficulty with:

  • Unsteadiness and difficulty walking
  • Facial weakness
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty speaking and swallowing

Learn more about brain tumours

What is a brain tumour?

Learn about brain tumour causes, grades and treatments.

The human brain

Explore the different areas of the brain that can be affected by tumours.

Brain cells

Learn about the different types of brain cells and the tumour types that affect them

How is a brain tumour diagnosed?

If you develop any of the symptoms described and are worried, see your GP.

Diagnosing brain tumours

Read about the methods used to diagnose brain tumours including scans, biopsies, biomarker testing and laboratory analysis.

How brain tumours are graded

Brain tumours are graded from 1 to 4 depending on how they are likely to behave. Find out more.

Scans for adults

Get details about MRI and CT scans, which can provide a detailed 3-D image of the brain.

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: 05/2014
Next review due: currently under review

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