Know the signs of brain tumors the life you save may be your own

I hope to make others more aware of the symptoms of  brain tumors, actually neurological deficit,  so that people affected by them might get treatment sooner than I did because all too often it seems tumors do not get detected until a serious health crisis has developed that is cause for a more intense evaluation that reveals a tumor. My apparent or noticeable symptoms were mental – memory loss, impaired concentration, problems with reasoning, changes in personality and behavior thought to perhaps be early dementia. I had been under routine medical care for diabetes getting laboratory blood work every three months and two weeks prior to being diagnosed underwent an annual diabetes eye exam with an ophthalmologist who said my vision was fine … by that time I had voluntarily stopped driving. When I discussed the symptoms I was having to the Nurse Practitioner who is my provider (much of the borderlands and west Texas is very much medically underserved especially family doctors) she examined me then said let’s start with an eye exam.

Symptoms

Brain tumors can produce a variety of symptoms, ranging from headache to seizure. They are great mimics of other neurologic disorders. Symptoms occur if the tumor directly damages the nerves in the brain or central nervous system, or if its growth puts pressure on the brain. Symptoms may be subtle and gradually become worse, or they may occur very rapidly.

Headache

Headache is probably the most frequent symptom of a brain tumor. However, headaches (especially tension-type and migraine) are very common, and the great majority of headaches are not caused by brain tumors. Most headaches associated with brain tumors are accompanied by other neurological symptoms.

Headaches caused by brain tumors vary depending on the tumor’s location and other factors. Such headaches may have similar symptoms to other less serious types of headaches such as migraine, tension headache, or others.

Symptoms that may be associated with brain tumors include a headache that is:

  • Steady and worse upon waking in the morning, then goes away within a few hours
  • Persistent during sleep and accompanied by at least one other symptom (such as vomiting or confusion)
  • Accompanied by double vision, weakness, or numbness
  • Worse with coughing or exercise or with a change in body position

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, are common.

Seizures

About half of people with brain tumors have a seizure. It is a common symptom of brain tumors in older adults. A seizure may be the first symptom of a brain tumor in up to half of affected people.

Brain tumors may cause partial or generalized seizures:

  • Partial seizures are caused by localized tumors that affect one area of the brain. In this case, a person does not lose consciousness but may have confusion, jerking movements, tingling, or odd mental and emotional events.
  • Generalized seizures, cause loss of consciousness and are often associated with jerking movements of the whole body. In people with brain tumors, most generalized seizures start off in a specific area of the brain and then spread to involve the whole brain (partial seizures with secondary generalization).

Mental Changes

Sometimes the only symptoms of brain tumors are mental changes, which may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired concentration
  • Problems with reasoning
  • Changes in personality and behavior
  • Increased sleep

Other Significant Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • Gradual loss of movement or sensation in an arm or leg

  • Unsteadiness and problems with balance

  • Blurred or double vision

  • Hearing loss with or without dizziness

  • Difficulty speaking and understanding words

Courtesy of Penn State Hershey

 

While at the emergency room at Val Verde Regional Medical Center here in Del Rio (where I went for what we thought was a severe headache) the physician assistant who initially examined me found in the neurological exam that I had pronator drift which essentially is an arm weakness when one extends their arms out in front of them that indicates that something abnormal is going on in the brain – a neurological deficiency such as caused by a stroke or tumor, etc.

As the exams went on more shocking was my loss of eyesight besides my being 53 years old and diabetic I had no clue that my peripheral vision was gone essentially a very limited tunnel vision! Then it began to sink in and explain some of my recent behavior such as having trouble finding things and places, not turning off the lights when leaving a room (outside of my vision field), getting much too close to other vehicles when driving and bumping into things on both sides when walking past them such as door ways, etc., etc.

Fast forward. I am six months out since surgery the 8 CM 3+ inch tumor removed from my brain was a benign variety, the thyroid nodules found in the radiology studies prior to the surgery were biopsied and found to be benign. Six month MRI of the brain shows the surgery site to be recovering well with no tumor regrowth. For that I feel to be very fortunate however the reason for me writing this is the time critical life threatening issue and the residual issues that I still have due to the time the tumor was pressing on brain tissue and nerves damaging them some irreversibly. The kind of tumor I had PILOCYTIC ASTROCYTOMA is a slow growing benign type of tumor because it is slow growing (and depending on it’s location in the brain) it often goes unnoticed as the brain can adapt to some of the issues that it causes in my case there was 12 MM ( one half inch) of leftward midline shift … the brain was pushed to the left side of my skull and compressed causing a Transtentorial herniation. Obviously early detection prevents neurological damage which often is permanent. Nerves often do not regenerate once lost, optical nerves being the most susceptible to permanent injury.