Common Signs and Symptoms of Brain Tumors

Headaches, Nausea, and Other Signs of a Brain Tumor

Symptoms of Brain Tumors
Is it a Brain Tumor?. Nisian Hughes Collection/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Common brain tumor symptoms tend to be non-specific and mimic other illnesses. Many times, symptoms don't immediately raise red flags that scream "brain tumor" to a physician. Brain tumors are rare, despite their increasing rate of diagnosis and because of this rarity, physicians often don't evaluate patients right off the bat for brain tumors. They may rule out other, less serious conditions initially.

Brain tumor symptoms vary greatly from person to person due to two factors: where the tumor is located and its size. The size of a tumor, however, does not necessarily affect the severity of symptoms as even a very small tumor can cause severe symptoms. It depends on what part of the brain is affected.

If you are saying to yourself, "I think I have a brain tumor," then check out this list of common symptoms.


Up to half of people who have brain tumors suffer from headaches, but headaches are much more likely to be related to another benign condition. A headache is not usually the initial symptom of a brain tumor, nor is it the only one that's experienced. Brain tumor headaches are often accompanied by other symptoms. That said, frequent headaches should not be ignored, regardless of having any accompanying symptoms, especially those that worsen with sneezing, coughing, or bending over.

Read more about the characteristics of brain tumor headaches. ​


Vomiting, especially in the morning and without nausea, can be a symptom of a brain tumor. Nausea, however, can also sometimes occur, but it's not as common. Like getting headaches, vomiting is a very vague symptom that could be caused by a number of things.

With a non-specific symptom like this, it is ideal to keep a symptom journal to help you and your physician look for patterns and possible triggers.

Personality or Mood Changes

Adults who have brain tumors sometimes experience personality changes that are frustrating and can interrupt daily living activities. For example, laughing at things that are not humorous, having a sudden increased interest in sex, throwing temper tantrums, and experiencing paranoia are just a few of the possible personality changes that a person may experience if he or she has a brain tumor. It's also possible for typical personality traits to become exaggerated. 


Up to a third of people report having seizures prior to being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Seizures cause the body to shake in varying levels of intensity. They can also cause a person to stare for several minutes or experience a visual disturbance like flashing lights. Loss of consciousness can also occur. Though seizures are most likely caused by another condition, like epilepsy or stroke, seek medical attention immediately if you believe that you have had a seizure.

Cognitive Decline

A brain tumor may cause the brain to process information at a slower speed.

If you find that it takes you longer to complete basic tasks than it usually does or feels harder than it used to, report it to your doctor. These are tasks that require thinking, like doing simple math, writing sentences, setting up a chess board, or following a recipe. Experiencing memory loss and having difficulty concentrating can be typical symptoms with some brain tumors, as well. It's important to note that this isn't related to fatigue or a lack of motivation. 

Vision and Hearing Problems

Some brain tumors can cause visual or audial disturbances that are difficult to ignore. Problems with vision can include seeing flashing lights, blurring, and floaters.

Audial disturbances can include one-sided hearing loss and ringing in the ears.

Physical Changes

An adult with a brain tumor may experience weakness on one side of the body. He or she may suddenly become clumsy—losing his or her balance, walking into walls, or stumbling. An abnormal gait may also be present and coordinated movements may become difficult.

Speech Changes

Slurring of words or slow speech can occur. A person who has a brain tumor may say things that make very little sense, despite efforts to communicate well. Sentences may have words in the incorrect order or even include words that have no relevance. 

What to Do If Think You May Have a Brain Tumor

If you think that you may have a brain tumor, see your doctor. It is likely that your symptoms are related to another condition, but these symptoms nevertheless warrant an evaluation from your doctor. Do not hesitate to share your concerns by saying, "I think I have a brain tumor" or "I'm wondering if I might have a brain tumor." This way, your doctor can address your concerns early on and explain what he or she suspects is the cause of your symptoms.


American Cancer Society. Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults. June 20, 2011.

National Cancer Institute. What You Need to Know About Brain Tumors.​