Brain tumor – primary – adults : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

A doctor can often identify signs and symptoms that are specific to the tumor location. Some tumors may not cause symptoms until they are very large. Then they can lead to a rapid decline in the person’s health. Other tumors have symptoms that develop slowly.

The specific symptoms depend on the tumor’s size, location, how far it has spread, and related swelling. The most common symptoms are:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures (especially in older adults)
  • Weakness in one part of the body
  • Changes in the person’s mental functions

Headaches caused by brain tumors may:

  • Be worse when the person wakes up in the morning, and clear up in a few hours
  • Occur during sleep
  • Be accompanied by vomiting, confusion, double vision, weakness, or numbness
  • Get worse with coughing or exercise, or with a change in body position

Other symptoms may include:

  • Change in alertness (including sleepiness, unconsciousness, and coma)
  • Changes in hearing
  • Changes in taste or smell
  • Changes that affect touch and the ability to feel pain, pressure, different temperatures, or other stimuli
  • Clumsiness
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty writing or reading
  • Dizziness or abnormal sensation of movement (vertigo)
  • Eye abnormalities
    • Eyelid drooping
    • Pupils different sizes
    • Uncontrollable movements
  • Hand tremor
  • Lack of control over the bladder or bowels
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle weakness in the face, arm, or leg (usually on just one side)
  • Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • Personality, mood, behavioral, or emotional changes
  • Problems with eyesight, including decreased vision, double vision, or total loss of vision
  • Trouble speaking or understanding others who are speaking
  • Trouble walking

Other symptoms that may occur with a pituitary tumor:

  • Abnormal nipple discharge
  • Absent menstruation (periods)
  • Breast development in men
  • Enlarged hands, feet
  • Excessive body hair
  • Facial changes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Sensitivity to heat or cold

Diagnosis & Tests

Most brain tumors increase pressure within the skull and compress brain tissue because of their size and weight.

The following tests may confirm the presence of a brain tumor and identify its location:

  • CT scan of the head
  • EEG
  • Examination of tissue removed from the tumor during surgery or CT-guided biopsy (may confirm the exact type of tumor)
  • Examination of the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) (may reveal cancerous cells)
  • MRI of the head


Review Date : 10/14/2009
Reviewed By : Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Departments of Anatomy and Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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