What does a brain tumor headache feel like?


An important and worrying question for most people who experience chronic headaches is: "Is the headache I am currently having due to a brain tumor?"

The quick and general answer is “No”. Although it is true that brain tumor can cause headache, but it is responsible for a very small percentage of headaches. Besides that, in the majority of headaches caused by tumors, there are usually other problems and symptoms that come before the headache.

In this article we will talk about the special characteristics of headaches triggered by tumors and talk about the other major accompanying problems and symptoms beside headache that you should be looking for. Here is what you will read next:


What does a  brain tumor headache feel like


Which brain tumors induce headaches

How does a tumor cause a headache?

Characteristics of brain tumor headaches

Symptoms accompanying tumor-related headaches



Which brain tumors trigger headache

Tumors can develop and grow almost in any organs including the brain. They can be initiated or originated within the same organ they grow in or they may be seeded from other tumor in other parts of the body and be transferred to other organs by the bloodstream.

In general, most brain tumors are seeded from tumors developed in other organs of the body, through the process called metastasis. It means that the primary site of tumor is in another organ and it gets transferred by blood or lymph system to other organs.

Beside the tumors developed through the metastasis process, there exist other tumors called primary brain tumors that originally start within the brain organ. Some of these primary brain tumors are as follow:

Fortunately, most of the headaches experienced by people around the world are actually unrelated to brain tumors. In order for the brain tumor to make headache, tumor should grow to a particular size at which it can put enough pressure on the brain tissue inside the bony structure of the head. Therefore, it is not common for a small tumor to raise headache. Instead, they may cause other problems and symptoms that will be discussed later in this article.

To be sure, you can have your brain examined for tumors with some imaging technique. If the results were normal, then it means that your headache is not produced by tumors, even a tiny, microscopic one!


how does a tumor cause a headache?

As the brain has no pain sensitive receptors, the feeling of headache in our head originates in fact from tissues other than the brain itself, like vessels and layers surrounding the brain tissue. Remember that almost all the space in our skull is occupied by brain and its supportive tissues, so there is no extra room for new guests.

When a tumor starts to grow up, intra skull pressure raises and this increased intracranial pressure will lead to many symptoms and problems including headaches. In most cases, there are other symptoms beside headaches that will help your doctor to determine whether a brain tumor is the main causative factor or not.

As mentioned above, most symptoms of brain tumors occur when the tumor is enlarged and can put pressure on the tissues and nerves inside the skull. This is why most brain tumors are asymptomatic in the early stages, and why the progression of headaches and other problems directly depends on the growth rate of the tumor.


Characteristics of brain tumor headaches

The following are the main characteristics of secondary headaches caused by brain tumors:

These types of headaches get worse after waking up in the morning:

In other words, these are headaches that are more severe when you wake up. However, you should note that not every brain tumor causes morning headaches nor every morning headaches is caused by tumors. In fact, the chance of having morning headaches due to reasons other than tumor is much higher than the probability of having tumor-related headaches. For example, you may have morning headaches because of other reasons like:

If your morning headaches occur frequently, you may want to be examined by a neurologist.


What does a  brain tumor headache feel like


Headaches that wake you up at night:

Remember, migraine and tension headaches cannot wake you up after you fall asleep. If the headache causes you to wake up frequently, it is best to be examined by a neurologist.

Severity of headaches changes by changing the head position:

The severity of headaches caused by brain tumors change as the position of the head and neck changes. Remember that the opposite is not valid, meaning that the severity of many headaches may change as you move your head without being related to brain tumors.

No response to treatment or the use of common analgesics:

Headaches associated with brain tumors often do not respond well to common headache medications and pills such as Advil, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, etc.


Symptoms accompanying tumor-related headaches

Significant weight loss:

Do not delay consulting a neurologist if you have severe, resistant headaches associated with significant weight loss.

Visual disorders:

Sudden vision loss can be a symptom of a brain tumor. The effect of tumor compressing the brain issues as well as the increased intracranial pressure can cause some vision problems such as loss of visual acuity and developing blurred vision.

Speech disorders:

Inability to recall words or loss of speech occurred suddenly in a person with long-term headaches can be a sign of developing brain tumor.


Forty to sixty percent of all brain tumors are associated with seizures. Thus, the combination of seizure and headache is a strong sign of brain tumor. However, seizures can also be caused by brain infections and other diseases.

The occurrence of seizures is usually a factor that indicates a good prognosis of the tumor (i.e. having higher chance of full recovery). The most common brain tumor that is associated with seizure is meningioma, which has a good prognosis and high chance of complete treatment.

Feeling weakness and numbness in half of the body or face

Depending on the location of a brain tumor, it can cause some sort of movement disorders similar to what happens in brain stroke.

Impaired balance

Sudden loss or complete loss of hearing in a person who has not previously had a hearing problem

Frequent behavioral, mood and personality changes

Tumors affecting the frontal lobe of the brain in any form can cause personality changes. For example, a person who was calm while ago may experience periods of anger and nervousness.


The final word

In general, people with brain tumors experience persistent headaches that wake them up, especially at night, or are aggravated right after waking up in the morning. The severity of the pain is often mild and vague, but sometimes sharp and tingling. Many of the symptoms listed above can also be present in strokes, so it is the job of an experienced neurologist to differentiate them by examining the patient and taking a CT scan or MRI if necessary.





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