What Is the Connection between Brain Tumors and Headaches?

Autumn Rivers

Brain tumors and headaches are often associated with each other because any abnormal growth in the head can lead to pressure, which is often painful. While headaches are common in patients with brain tumors, they are not usually the first symptom, nor do headaches automatically indicate a tumor. In fact, brain tumors are not common, so patients are advised to avoid the assumption that they have a tumor based on headaches alone. When brain tumors and headaches are actually related, the pain in the head often becomes more frequent and severe over time. Headaches associated with brain tumors can be painful enough to awaken patients from sleep and are not usually relieved through the use of pain medication.

Abnormal growths within the head can cause headaches.
Abnormal growths within the head can cause headaches.

In many cases, patients suffering from both brain tumors and headaches have increased intracranial pressure to blame, because the space in the cranium is usually only big enough for the brain and its normal fluids. This means, however, that a tumor is not the only cause of intracranial pressure and the resulting headaches. This issue can also be the result of swelling or excess fluids. Patients suffering from frequent headaches are advised to see a doctor, because brain tumors are the most treatable when caught early. In addition, patients who complain of headaches may have a condition other than a tumor, in which case it needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

A brain tumor may need to be surgically removed.
A brain tumor may need to be surgically removed.

Many patients who have experienced both brain tumors and headaches complain that the pain is severe enough to wake them while they sleep and strong enough to continue even after they take pain relievers. In many cases, the headache gets worse when the patient changes positions or exerts any effort, such as when sneezing or coughing. The pain caused by the headache may be dull and constant, or it can be throbbing. It is almost always frequent, though, and many patients get headaches around the same time every day. As the tumor grows, the headaches often become more severe and usually become more frequent.

When brain tumors and headaches are connected, the pain in the head often becomes more frequent and severe over time.
When brain tumors and headaches are connected, the pain in the head often becomes more frequent and severe over time.

When diagnosing a brain tumor, doctors often ask patients about the nature of their headaches, including the severity, the frequency and whether this symptom is new. It is typically considered more worrisome when a patient has suddenly started getting headaches often, or they have gotten worse, than when they have gotten them often for several years. Another possible sign that brain tumors and headaches are related is that medication is ineffective, which is why doctors often ask patients what they have taken to relieve the pain. In addition, symptoms such as seizures, nausea, and memory loss may lead doctors to perform a CT scan or biopsy to diagnose the issue.

A neurologist may order a brain CT scan in order to assess a patient who reports severe and persistent headaches.
A neurologist may order a brain CT scan in order to assess a patient who reports severe and persistent headaches.

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