Headaches

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Brain Tumor Headache

Headache is one of the most common symptoms experienced by patients with brain tumors. There are many causes and types of headaches. If you are experiencing headaches, talk to your doctor. Your doctor is best able to listen to your concerns, review your medical and headache history, and determine next steps in your care. In some cases, headaches can be managed with medication.


Below are some of the common features of headaches in patients with brain tumors:

  • Steady pain that is worse upon waking in the morning and gets better within a few hours.
  • Persistent, non-migraine headache.
  • May be accompanied by vomiting.
  • May or may not be throbbing, depending on the location of the tumor.
  • May worsen with coughing, exercise, or a change in body position.
  • Does not usually respond to the usual headache remedies.
  • May be associated with new neurological problems.

Incidence

About 50 percent of brain tumor patients experience headaches related to their tumor.


Cause

Because the brain has no pain receptors, brain tumors themselves do not cause headache pain. Headaches are actually the result of pressure caused by the tumor and/or tumor-related fluid buildup on pain-sensitive blood vessels and nerves within the brain.

 

Management

Below are some suggestions to help patients with brain tumors manage headache pain:

  • Treat with the medication prescribed by the doctor.
  • Notify the doctor right away if the medication stops working or becomes less effective.
  • Keep a “headache journal.” It may be helpful for the doctor to have a record of the headaches, particularly if they are becoming worse. Some questions to consider:
  • What does the pain feel like? Sharp? Stabbing? Dull? Pounding? Achy? Tingling?
  • Is it accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or changes in vision?
  • Where is the pain located? All over? Head only? Abdomen? Limbs? Elsewhere?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable, how does the pain rate?
  • How long has the pain lasted?
  • Does it move around or stay in one place?
  • Does it come and go, or is it there all the time?
  • Does it seem to happen in relation to something else (eg, eating, standing suddenly, reaching)?
  • Is there anything that makes the pain better or worse?
  • Does pain medicine help? If so, how much?
  • Call 911 or go to the emergency room if:
  • The headache is accompanied by a fever or stiff neck.
  • The headache is the highest degree of pain on the pain scale (ask your doctor or nurse for details).
  • Call your doctor if you are unsure about what to do.

It is not unusual for symptoms to change over time. Be sure to discuss any new symptoms or changes in existing symptoms with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible.

 

It is important to note that the information provided here is basic and does not take the place of an in-person assessment by a physician. If there is any question about the seriousness of headache pain or any other symptom experienced, please contact your doctor.

Related Resources

Headache Information Page

Headache Information Page

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Medline Plus: Headaches

Medline Plus: Headaches

U.S. National Library of Medicine

Merck Manual Home Edition Online

Merck Manual Home Edition Online

Overview of Headaches

National Headache Foundation

National Headache Foundation

For more information about headaches.