A brain tumor is a group of cells that have grown and multiplied abnormally. Tumors that begin in the brain from brain cells are called primary tumors; secondary tumors are cancerous cells that have come from somewhere else in the body and seated themselves in the brain. Glioblastoma is a virulent, fast-growing tumor that starts in the glia which are the support cells for the brain that nourish the brain and help guide signals that are transmitted along the neurons. Separated into two classifications, primary and secondary, glioblastoma has no cure and is usually fatal. Glioblastoma can have an array of symptoms, some more common than others.
Because a glioblastoma happens in the brain, when it grows, it takes up space. This causes increased intercranial pressure as fluids build up in the brain and have nowhere to go. Headache is one of the most common symptoms of brain tumor, occurring in over 75 percent of those diagnosed. Head pain that is due to increased pressure has often been misdiagnosed as migraines or tension headaches. The headache will often cause nausea and vomiting and seems to be unaffected by analgesics. Often, patients with glioblastoma have reported that the headache is worse in the morning, which may have something to do with having lain down all night.
Depending on in which area of the brain the glioma has seated, neurological symptoms can vary, but the most common is a glioma in the cerebrum, that part of the brain that governs consciousness and voluntary actions. The symptoms commonly reported are weakness in one arm or one leg, numbness in one extremity, hearing loss or loss of eyesight. Because some of these neurological symptoms can mimic stroke, it is always a good idea to get yourself checked out if you are experiencing any of the above.
Seizures will occur in patients with a glioblastoma roughly 60 percent of the time. One type of seizure is a "simple focal seizure" that involves your senses (the smell of burnt feathers or tar) and affects your motor functions (a "twitch" in your arms or legs). This type of seizure is over very quickly, and usually the patient does not lose consciousness. Often mistaken for epilepsy, a grand-mal seizure from a glioma will last only one or two minutes and will cause the patient to lose consciousness and exhibit twitching motions in his hands and feet. If a patient has a brain tumor on the frontal lobe (which governs emotions, personality and motor function), he may act confused, disoriented and perform repetitive movements.
Hydrocephalus is from the Greek words "hydros," which means "water" and "cephalus," meaning "head" and is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluids (CSF) in the brain. The fluid is often under increased pressure due to the glioblastoma moving in and taking up space in the skull needed by the brain which can damage the brain by compressing the soft tissue. Often, patients with hydrocephalus due to glioblastoma will experience "sunsetting" of the eyes, where the eyes are continually cast down, which is caused by intercranial pressure. Urinary incontinence is also one of the unfortunate side effects.
Other indicators of glioblastoma can be cognitive, or involving the mind and the senses. Patients under medical care for glioma have reported problems with short-term memory, difficulty concentrating and confusion or disorientation, as well as some behavioral changes. Some patients find themselves easily irritated and short tempered, often blowing things up out of proportion. Aphasia, which is the inability to find the right word to express yourself, can be an issue, too. Depression can also occur.
These symptoms can also happen in people without a brain tumor and can actually signal the presence of other diseases and conditions. If you have suspicions or are worried that you might have a glioblastoma or some other neurological condition, see your doctor.
- Photo Credit Neurons in the brain and cerebral cortex by Dr. Jonathan Clarke/Flikr
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