What do brain tumor headaches feel like? Should you be worried if you often get pounding headaches? It all depends on whether you have a history of headaches, how the headache feels and if your headache responds to medication.
Is It a Tumor?
Many people worry that a persistent headache indicates a brain tumor, and with good reason: A headache is one of the early signs of a brain tumor.
However, before you run to your doctor requesting a brain scan to explain a headache, you should know that there is a difference between a brain tumor headache and a normal tension, cluster or migraine headache. While brain tumor headaches have no unique identifying properties, a few key differences separate them from ordinary tension or cluster headaches.
Characteristics of Brain Tumor Headaches
Often a brain tumor headache only occurs when a person bends forward or coughs. It may also strike in the early hours of the morning, with a dull, monotonous pain that disappears on its own.
Many times a tumor headache will begin while a person is asleep. A tumor headache causes fatigue and throbbing at the location of the tumor, along with numbness and confusion.
Frequently, seizures, double vision and neck pain accompany the tumor headaches. Many people find that the headaches worsen if they change position, exercise or perform any physical activity. Sometimes brain tumor pain will increase due to a change in barometric pressure, such as during a flight, or when a storm is approaching.
Brain tumor headaches differ from migraine headaches in several ways. A migraine headache will go away with migraine medication. A tumor headache will not respond to these medications. Brain tumor headaches may respond to Tylenol, ibuprofen or other prescription pain medications, like Darvocet or Vicodin.
Some migraine suffers have nausea and light sensitivity in addition to the physical pain from their headaches. Although nausea is a symptom of brain tumors, it generally does not occur with a tumor headache in the early stages.
What Causes the Headache?
Brain tissue itself has no pain sensors, so a tumor can grow for some time before it's noticed. Eventually, brain tumors cause swelling in the lining of the brain, which brings on the headaches. Medications such as steroids or mannitol help reduce the swelling in the area surrounding the tumor, relieving the headache pain.
Tumor headaches are often described as a localized pain. The pain originates at the top of the head or throughout the whole head. The tumor headache does not have the same "pressure" feeling that most regular headaches cause.
Headaches alone are only one symptom to consider. Other considerations include the following:
Brain tumor treatment depends on the type, size and location of the tumor. Benign tumors grow slowly and respond well to treatment, while malignant tumors often require surgical removal.