Symptoms of a brain tumour in adults

Brain tumours are relatively rare. Over 10,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year. This means that most times the symptoms you are showing 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:

However, 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. You can find more information on each of these symptoms, and other symptoms associated with brain tumours, below.

You can also download our brain tumour symptoms (in adults) factsheet.


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 also 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, 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.

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 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.

It is important to 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.

If a brain tumour is located in the frontal lobe, symptoms may include difficulty with:

  • concentrating
  • speaking and communicating
  • controlling emotions and behaviour
  • learning new information

If a brain tumour is located in the temporal lobe, symptoms may include difficulty with:

  • hearing
  • speaking
  • identifying and categorising objects
  • learning new information
  • correctly identifying emotions in others

If a brain tumour is located in the parietal lobe, symptoms may include 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

If a brain tumour is located in the occipital lobe, symptoms may include difficulty with:

  • vision, for example identifying objects or colours

If a brain tumour is located in the cerebellum, symptoms may include 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)

If a brain tumour is located in the brain stem, symptoms may include difficulty with:

  • unsteadiness and difficulty walking
  • facial weakness
  • double vision
  • difficulty speaking and swallowing

What are the symptoms of a brain tumour in children?

If you need information about the symptoms of brain tumours in children, please see our page on childhood brain tumour symptoms

How is a brain tumour diagnosed?

If you develop any of the symptoms described and are worried, see your GP. The GP may examine the back of your eye and look for changes caused by increased pressure inside the skull. If s/he suspects a brain tumour, you will be referred to a specialist - a neurologist or neurosurgeon (specialists in brain and nerve disorders). Some GPs can refer you for a scan directly.

The specialist will ask questions about your health and give you a physical examination. They will also test your nervous system (called a neurological examination). This involves examining your vision, hearing, alertness, muscle strength, co-ordination, and reflexes. They will also look at the back of your eyes to see if there is any swelling of the optic disc. (The optic disc is where the optic nerve from the brain enters the eye). Any swelling may be a sign of raised pressure inside the skull, which could be a sign of a brain tumour. You will also need an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or CT (Computerised Tomography) scan to confirm whether a brain tumour is present.

Page last reviewed: 05/2014
Next review due: 05/2017

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