Could Frequent Headaches Mean a Brain Tumor?

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man with fingertips at his temples

People who suffer from persistent bad headaches sometimes fear the worst, thinking they may have a brain tumor.

But in reality, that very rarely is the case.

While brain tumors can produce headaches, they usually have other symptoms as well, says Andrew Sloan, MD, director of the UH Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center.

“Most patients with brain tumors have not only headaches, but neurological problems such as seizures, weakness, numbness and language or visual changes,” Dr. Sloan says. “Headaches alone without any other symptoms are rarely caused by brain tumors.”

If headaches are accompanied by other troubling symptoms or neurologic problems, your doctor may order a diagnostic imaging test, such as a CT scan.  But these tests are not recommended for headaches alone because they will not likely find the cause.

What Causes the Pain

Almost all people have headaches during their life. The brain tissue doesn’t have pain-sensitive nerve fibers and doesn’t feel pain. But other parts of the head can be responsible for a headache including:

  • A network of nerves that extends over the scalp
  • Certain nerves in the face, mouth, and throat
  • Muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders
  • Blood vessels found along the surface and at the base of the brain

Headaches vary greatly in terms of the location and intensity of the pain, and how often they occur.

Types of Headaches

Headaches can be primary or secondary.

A primary headache means the headache itself is the main health problem. But other factors such as muscle tension or exposure to certain foods may be triggers. Other things that may help cause the headache include medicines, dehydration, or hormone changes.

A secondary headache is related to an underlying health condition. An example of this would be a headache caused by a neck injury, eye problems, or an infection in the jaw, teeth or sinus.

Headaches often have triggers, such as stress, fatigue and certain foods and drinks. But the cause of most headaches is not well understood.

Dr. Sloan recommends headache sufferers see their primary care physician for help evaluating and managing headache pain. That may include prevention strategies, medications, lifestyle changes and other therapies.

Related Links

The multidisciplinary team at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center leads the way in offering our patients comprehensive care with the latest surgical and non-surgical interventions to stop tumor growth and maintain brain health. Learn more about brain cancer treatment services at University Hospitals.

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