Headache or Brain Tumour?
When Should You be Worried?
I see a lot of people who are worried they had a brain tumour, so they get an MRI or CT scan to rule it out.
Headaches are common, and brain tumours are rare, so for most people a headache is just that - a headache.
But sometimes a headache is a sign of something nastier. So when should you be worried?
Brain cancer has a very low incidence in those below 40 years of age - less than 5 in 100,000 people. As you age it becomes more common but at it's highest is still less than 30 per 100,000 people.
Of those who do get brain cancer approximately 50% will get headaches. The other 50% have no headaches at all, as the tumour is too small to cause a headache.
Part of the problem is that headaches and migraines that people get without a tumour have a lot of similar features to the ones people get when they have a tumour.
Both can have nausea, vomiting, dizziness and a feeling of "brain fog".
So here is a list of when you should seek more advice from your GP or specialist.
- if you are over 40 years of age and have a sudden onset of headache for no reason
- a sudden change in your regular headache or migraine. Many headaches and migraines change slowly over time and that is normal. if the change is sudden then seek some medical advice
- new headache if you have a history of cancer
- if the headache gets worse with coughing, sneezing, bending over or lying down
- new sudden onset of headache that is rapidly getting more frequent or intense
Most worrying are new headache that are accompanied by neurological symptoms such as:
- changes in vision or hearing
- weakness of the arms or legs
- problems with speaking
- mood changes
- memory problems and confusion
Remember brain tumours are rare and headaches are common, but if you are worried see your GP to get more information or request a CT or MRI scan.
It's better to be safe than sorry!