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Symptoms depend largely on the tumor's location, size, and how fast it is growing. Symptoms may suddenly appear or get progressively worse over time. Symptoms include:


Headache is a very common symptom of a brain tumor, though very few headaches are from a tumor. The headache happens because of increased pressure in the skull caused by growth of the tumor itself, swelling from tissue around the tumor, or a blockage of fluid that surrounds the brain and spine.

Headaches due to tumors tend to worsen over time and are not relieved with standard approaches. They are often most painful when waking up in the morning and may be associated with visual changes, like double vision.


For some people, having a seizure is the first sign of a brain tumor. A seizure can occur suddenly and sometimes without warning. However, there are people who feel a change or signal (called an aura) before the seizure occurs.

A seizure may be:

  • Generalized or major motor—May cause violent shaking, which may include losing consciousness. There may be loss of urine or bowel control, or biting of the tongue. These seizures begin in one part of the brain, but spread throughout the brain.
  • Focal—These may cause one part of the body to shake uncontrollably. It may start in one area and progress to a generalized seizure. A focal seizures may also occur without any shaking. They may or may not involve a change in consciousness.

Not all seizures include shaking of body. Some seizures are quick changes of consciousness, which may cause a person to fade out for a brief period.

Other General Symptoms

Increased intracranial pressure may cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Blurred, double, or loss of vision
  • Increased fatigue and/or sleepiness
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
Other Physical and Neurological Symptoms

If the tumor is pressing on or growing into nearby brain tissue, certain functions may be affected. Symptoms are dependent on tumor location, but changes may be noticed with:

  • Comprehension and/or expression of language
  • Memory
  • Sensation and processing of sensory input
  • Personality or behavior, such as lack of emotion or impulsiveness
  • Ability to do learned movements or gestures
  • Ability to process information
  • Coordination and walking
  • Controlling the bladder or bowel
  • Muscle strength or sensation in one or more parts of the body


Astrocytoma and oligodentroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 13, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2016.

Brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2015.

Brain and spinal cord tumors in children. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2015.

General information about adult brain tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated February 13, 2015. Accessed August 14, 2015.

Meningioma. EBSCO Plus DynaMed website. Available at: Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Seizure disorders. Merck Professional Version website. Available at: Updated May 2013. Accessed August 14, 2015.

Last reviewed May 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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