Headache caused by a Brain Tumor – Causes and Management

A headache that is different from your typical migraine or stress headache and causes more pain than usual can be a sign of something serious and might even lead to thinking that it is a headache caused by a brain tumor. However, this is not always true and proper diagnosis is required. Headache due to brain tumor is throbbing in character that aggravates with exertion and occurs intermittently.
When to consult a doctor?

Symptoms of a brain tumor headache

In the beginning, a brain tumor might be asymptomatic but as it grows it can begin to cause headaches. The symptoms are as follows:

  • The character, intensity, and frequency of your headaches change in a noticeable way
  • Pressure in the back of the head
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Blurred vision or diplopia
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • Weakness and numbness on one side of the body that worsens gradually
  • Agitation
  • State of confusion
  • Sudden loss of ability to speak
  • Hearing loss
  • Unconsciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting along with headache.

Causes of a brain tumor headache

  • Headache is not a direct symptom of a brain tumor. A brain tumor is asymptomatic in the beginning and no headache is experienced. However, as the tumor grows in size and becomes large enough to cause pressure on the nerves, blood vessels, and nervous tissue in the surrounding area it causes headaches.
  • Another cause of headaches due to a brain tumor, is the gradual build-up of pressure when the tumor blocks the CSF flow, within the brain. The CSF exerts pressure on the brain and causes a headache.

Types of headaches caused by a brain tumor

  • You may wake up due to a hypnic headache.
  • The intensity of pain changes with a change in position – orthostatic headache.
  • Headache that does not relieve upon taking an analgesic.
  • The headache typically worsens upon exertion such as coughing, sneezing, shouting, etc.

Complications of brain tumor

  • Ischemic stroke by compressing a small vessel
  • Metastasis to other areas
  • Vision problems, even blindness
  • Loss of hearing

Management of brain tumor


Your doctor will take a complete history of your headache and will run a series of investigations to rule out the differentials. A CT scan, x-ray, or MRI is advisable.


  • Analgesics: Can be given to relieve headaches caused by a brain tumor.
  • Chemotherapy: Medicines are used that pass through the blood-brain barrier and destroy the tumor.
  • Radiotherapy: Radiations are employed for the destruction of the tumor.
  • Surgery: A surgical incision is made to remove the tumor.

The exact treatment for a tumor depends upon the type, location, and size of the tumor along with its extent of metastasis and origin.

When to consult a doctor?

If you have suddenly started experiencing uncomfortable headaches that are different from your usual headache type and are intermittent you should show concern. If you have been diagnosed with carcinoma somewhere else in the body, the onset of headaches might indicate metastasis of cancer and you should book a consultation with your doctor as soon as possible.


What other signs are important to notice other than a headache in case of a brain tumor?

Neurological signs like numbness and weakness on one side of the body that worsens gradually, Agitation, state of confusion, sudden loss of ability to speak, and hearing loss are important to notice.

How long does the Headache caused by a brain tumor lasts?

The headache is intermittent and usually goes away within a short duration of 50 to 60 minutes.

Can a tumor elsewhere in the body cause headache?

A tumor from somewhere else in the body can always metastasize to the brain and form a tumor there, that grows to a size so large that it compresses nerves and cause a headache.

Last medically reviewed on September 3, 2022.