The thought of a tumor is scary. A growth inside the body that doesn’t belong, whether benign or malignant, can cause a number of health problems. But brain tumors are especially frightening because they disrupt function in the area of the body that makes us who we are.
The human brain is driven by trillions of electrical currents that are transmitted from specific areas to others at set times in order to create consciousness. You can think of the brain as a complex circuit, which generates specific electrical impulses that create movement, speech, and even thought. This circuit is astonishing in its complexity. It is estimated that the brain contains 100 billion neurons, cells that make up the electrical wires of the circuit. The number of connections between these wires is even greater.
Despite this incredible complexity, the symptoms of brain tumors are often vague and non-specific.
Common presentations include:
- Headache Confusion
- Changes in personality
They are typically not subtle, and usually progress over time. The changes can be so dramatic that a number of people with brain tumors are initially misdiagnosed with strokes. However, proper brain imaging with computed tomography (CT scans) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can usually confirm the presence of a brain tumor if a patient is experiencing these symptoms.
Most headaches that we experience are NOT from a brain tumor. Headaches from brain tumors are almost always different than the headaches that most of us are used to experiencing from time to time. Headaches that are more severe than usual, associated with vomiting or passing out, worse in the morning or associated with confusion usually warrant investigation with further imaging.
This can be caused by many things, including drug side effects, electrolyte disturbances, sleep disorders, and aging, to name a few. When confusion is caused by a brain tumor, family and friends may witness progressive behaviors that are unusual or bizarre and out of character for the patient. When these behaviors escalate over a period of weeks or even months, patients are usually brought in for evaluation. The same is true when patients experience personality changes from a brain tumor.
Weakness from a brain tumor is the symptom most often misdiagnosed as a stroke. Similar to a stroke victim, brain tumor patients may present with facial, arm, or leg weakness, usually on one side of the body, and often in combination. But, unlike stroke patients, tumor weakness tends to be progressive rather than sudden, and does not tend to improve at all without intervention.
Seizures are uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity from the brain that may manifest as staring spells, bouts of confusion and word slurring, or even convulsions. Sometimes seizure may be the only sign indicating the presence of a brain tumor. After medication is given to control seizures, brain imaging can delineate the tumor causing the seizure problem. In general, safe tumor removal is the best way to prevent further seizures in these cases.
The Lexington Medical Center Brain Tumor Program, led by Dr. Engh, combines the expertise of talented specialists with the most advanced and effective treatment options to help patients achieve the best possible outcomes.