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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Are headaches an indication of a brain tumour?

    I have suffered from headaches for many years and I have always been worried that I may have a brain tumour. Are headaches a symptom of a tumour?
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    John Smartt is an osteopath who practices in the centre of Sydney. View Profile

    There are a lot of causes of headaches; some of them are serious, most of them aren't. But headaches are never pleasant. So if you have been suffering for many years, see a health professional who will check it out thoroughly for you. Simply being able to rule out any serious causes will help you to feel better; and in all probability, the headaches you have been suffering from are treatable.

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    If you have had the headaches for many years it is unlikely to be due to a brain tumour, however getting an MRI is the best way to rule this out.  Thankfully many headaches are treatable with simple therapies.

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    Agree

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    Mr. Roger O'Toole

    Physiotherapist

    Roger O'Toole is the Director and senior clinician of The Melbourne Headache Centre. Since opening the Melbourne Headache Centre in 2012 Roger has amassed over … View Profile

    If headaches are your only symptom then it is extremely unlikely to be secondary to a brain tumour for several reasons.
    A study in 1994 by Vazque-Barquero et al found that only 8% of adults they assessed had headache as the first and only symptom. Headache in isolation for longer than 10 weeks will only exceptionally be secondary to intra cranial neoplasm.

    If present at all, headache as a result of intra-cranial tumour will more commonly present with:

    • Nausea and or vomiting
    • Confusion
    • Seizures
    • Weakness
    • Aggravation with changes in position
    • Abnormal neurological signs (sensation, power, reflexes)
    Typically the symptoms worsen over days or weeks and you are unwell in ways other than headpain.

    NB: This is different for children. Around 70% of the brain tumour population in children of all ages have headche as a primary presentation.

    I.e. That's NOT 70% of children's headaches are tumours, but 70% of children with brain tumours will have headache as a symptom, and for this reason paediatric headache presentation should always be investigated.

    So in your case if headache is your only symptom, and it has not changed rapidly AND significantly in the last 6 months in terms of intensity, frequency, quality, duration then you would be quite safe to have your condition assessed by a suitably qualified health practitioner.

    Hope this helps.

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