Karen Griffiths, a 60-year-old woman from Eastbourne, East Sussex, endured a harrowing misdiagnosis for three years when her brain tumour symptoms were mistaken for menopause. Her journey, which involved struggles with tinnitus and headaches, highlights the complexities of medical diagnostics and the importance of listening to patients’ concerns.
In 2018, Karen, then 55, began experiencing one-sided pulsatile tinnitus, where a heartbeat-like sound is heard in the ear. Concurrently, she suffered from morning headaches, coordination difficulties, speech struggles, and a loss of train of thought. Despite visiting her GP at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust over these symptoms, her condition was attributed to the menopause, and she was sent home.
The situation escalated in April 2021 when Karen’s tinnitus intensified, disturbing her sleep. A locum GP referred her to an ear, nose, and throat consultant, leading to an MRI at Eastbourne District General Hospital. The scan revealed a benign tumour pressing on a major brain vein, the superior sagittal sinus.
Reflecting on her ordeal, Karen expressed frustration about the initial dismissal of her symptoms. “I was suffering with symptoms for over three years, and it gradually got worse. My symptoms were disregarded for a long time, despite things getting steadily worse. I ended up feeling like a time-waster. Looking back, it was quite dangerous,” she said. The improved consultation with the locum GP marked a turning point, with Karen noting, “I could tell he was really listening to what I was saying.”
Diagnosed with a meningioma, Karen underwent surgery in March 2022 at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. The operation, while successful, resulted in a partial resection due to the tumour’s location. Post-surgery, Karen faces nightly seizures and requires yearly MRI scans to monitor her condition. Her recovery involves gradual improvements in speech, memory, and balance. She hopes to return to work soon, having been on leave since September 2021.
Karen’s diagnosis coincided with her mother’s terminal cancer, adding to the emotional burden. “It was a bit of a double whammy. I didn’t tell anyone at first; I didn’t want my mum to know as it would have been heartbreaking for her,” Karen shared. The neurosurgeon informed her of various risks, including life-threatening ones, associated with the tumour.
Image credit: The Brain Tumour Charity/SWNS