‘Cephalalgia’ first thing in the morning could signal a brain tumour

Brain tumour: Cancer Research UK on 'different types' in 2017

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Millions of people around the world succumb to brain tumours every year, often because the disease is caught too late. In most cases, the sign only appears once intracranial pressure has surpassed a specific threshold. Because the fluids that surround the head increase when the body is lying down, some symptoms may be more pronounced upon waking.

The peer-reviewed journal Cephalalgia explained in 2021: “Headache is one of the leading symptoms often associated with brain tumours.

“Brain tumour headache was traditionally thought to display some specific clinical characteristics including worsening in the morning and or when lying down, being aggravated by Valsalva-like manoeuvres and accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting.”

Aside from being more pronounced in the morning, the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Centre states that every patient’s pain experience is unique.

“They are often described as dull, ‘pressure-type’ headaches, though some patients also experience sharp or ‘stabbing’ pain,” explained the health body.

Brain tumour headaches – also referred to as “cephalalgia” – may be located in a specific part of the brain, and may be more pronounced when a person coughs, sneezes or bends down.

Doctor Lindsay Lipinsky, Assistant Professor of Oncology and a neurosurgeon at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Centre suggested it may be worth looking for other signs too.

The doctor explained: “I estimate 50 to 60 percent of patients with brain tumours at Roswell Park experience headaches at the time of their diagnosis.

“They occur most often in conjunction with another neurologic problem, like a seizure of speech problem, that led to the diagnosis.”

Some reports state that the signs may be spread fairly evenly between focal symptoms and non-focal symptoms.

Focal symptoms tend to signal impairments of nerve, spinal cord, or brain function that affect a specific region of the body.

This may include complications like weakness or issues swallowing certain foods and liquids.

Symptoms categorised as non-focal signs, on the other hand, tend to comprise headaches, personality problems, visual changes and unsteadiness.

Dr Lipinsky added: “The skull is basically a sphere with a set amount of tissue inside.

“Adding more tissue (a tumour or blood clot, for example) raises the pressure inside the sphere between the skull and cannot expand to accommodate it.”

Often the increased pressure caused by a tumour is felt in the back of the head.

It should be noted, however, that this pressure could be caused by a tumour that is non-malignant.

What’s more, swelling of the brain may bring on different symptoms that may be unnatural to associate with brain tumours.

This is typical of tumours that press against the front lobe, the part of the brain involved in regulating personality and behaviour.

In a great number of cases, brain tumour headaches are absent at the time of clinical presentation, so all suspicious personality changes may be worth investigating.

Keeping note of different personality and physical changes may help physicians establish an accurate diagnosis in the early stages of the disease.

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