Have you ever woken up with a headache and worried it might signify something more sinister?
Turns out, a lot of us have – in the last year, UK searches for ‘morning headaches brain tumour’ have more than doubled.
Dr Tim Woodman, medical director at Bupa UK Insurance, shares everything you need about headaches and brain tumours.
You should always see your doctor to get a correct diagnosis for a new type of headache or one lasting more than a few days.
If you have frequent headaches (more than 15 days a month) or are worried or stressed about them, it’s also important to see your GP.
Seek urgent medical attention if:
- You get a ‘thunderclap’ headache – an intense headache that starts very suddenly
- Your headache gets progressively worse over time
- Your headache gets worse when you change body position or with coughing
- You have a headache that is accompanied by fever, nausea and vomiting, a stiff neck, rash, and/or sensitivity to light
- You have a headache that is associated with nerve symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling or symptoms of a clot or bleed in the brain, such as difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- You experience headaches after a blow to the head or an accident.
An accurate diagnosis of your headache from a qualified medical professional will help you get the right treatment. But there are also several things you can do to help manage bothersome headaches:
- Keep a headache diary, noting what you eat, your hormonal cycle and other environmental factors. This can help you and your doctor diagnoses your headache. It can also help identify what triggers your headaches.
- A healthy lifestyle and stress management can help relieve many headaches. Talk to your doctor about what is appropriate for you.
- Other measures some people find helpful to relieve headaches include lying in a dark and quiet room, sleeping, or walking in the fresh air.
- Appropriate over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may help when recommended. Consult your doctor if you have regular debilitating headaches and take pain relievers frequently or excessively. If you get migraines, your doctor may prescribe special medicines for treating and/or preventing them. Always read the accompanying consumer medicine information and take it as prescribed. If you have any questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
How might a headache possibly caused by a brain tumour differ from a normal headache?
A headache will rarely be caused by a brain tumour. In the UK, there are around 12,000 new cases of brain tumours per year.
A brain tumour can cause headaches but often has other symptoms such as vomiting, visual disturbances, a weakness in an arm and/or leg, speech problems, personality changes or a seizure.
If your headache worsens over time or is different from a normal headache you experience, you should see your GP, especially if the headaches are waking you up at night and are worse in the morning or when you cough, sneeze, or sneeze bend down.
What tests might be done?
When you visit your GP, they’ll ask questions about your symptoms and do a few tests such as looking into your eyes, checking to hear and test your reflexes. If your doctor thinks it may be a brain tumour, they’ll refer you to have a CT scan or an MRI.