Brain tumors and strokes may be seen together in patients, primarily because the tumors that form in the brain produce many of the same symptoms as stroke. Strokes do not lead to brain tumors, but brain tumors can sometimes lead to strokes. The growing tumor can cause either ischemic stroke or hemorrhagic stroke, depending on its type and placement.
What makes strokes caused by brain tumors different is that they develop more slowly. With a standard ischemic stroke, you will likely experience immediate language problems, paralysis to one side, or difficulty with coordination. Strokes from brain tumors develop more slowly because the mass takes time to grow and cut off blood supply to parts of the brain. For this reason, the symptoms are more subtle than with acute strokes.
Signs and Symptoms of a Brain Tumor
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a brain tumor for two reasons. First, knowing these symptoms will help differentiate between a stroke and a tumor. Strokes are usually fast and devastating, while brain tumors exhibit the symptoms over time and in less pronounced ways. The second reason is that strokes are not uncommonly a complication of brain tumors and treatment. Stroke in brain tumor patients is usually under diagnosed, and this can lead to more neurological problems for the patient.
The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor depend on its location, type, and rate of growth. A typical brain tumor will exhibit headaches that tend to be worse in the mornings, nausea, vomiting, and trouble with speech. It may lead to problems with vision or hearing, weakness or paralysis, difficulty walking, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs and trouble keeping one’s balance. Mood changes, such as depression and anxiety, and difficulty concentrating are other signs of a brain tumor. . Many of these symptoms mirror those of a stroke, and that is why it is often difficult to differentiate between the two.
Brain Tumor and Ischemic Stroke
The most common type of stroke from a brain tumor is ischemic stroke. This is because the mass grows in the brain and can squeeze off vessels that lead to different regions. Brain tumors grow slowly, so the cessation of blood supply to a region of the brain will gradually show symptoms.
For instance, in ischemic strokes where a clot completely blocks off the region of the brain responsible for movement on the right side of the body, the symptoms are immediate and fully manifested. With ischemic strokes from brain tumors, the region of the brain gets some blood but not all. This can cause numbness and tingling intermittently on one side of the body, but it usually isn’t clear that the brain tumor is impeding blood flow. The symptoms from this type of stroke are not as definitive as those from a simple clot-induced stroke.
Brain Tumor and Hemorrhagic Stroke
Occasionally, brain tumors can rupture and bleed, and this can cause a hemorrhagic stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when blood escapes from the blood vessel in the brain, and the influx of the blood puts pressure on the brain tissue. This pressure causes symptoms. The symptoms of this type of stroke are dependent on how quickly the tumor is bleeding and where the bleed is located. Although ischemic strokes from brain tumors happen slowly, usually hemorrhagic strokes happen quite quickly, regardless if they are caused by a brain tumor or occur naturally. For this reason, a brain tumor may be sometimes missed if it presents as a hemorrhagic stroke.
Hemorrhagic strokes from brain tumors are not as common as ischemic strokes. Unfortunately, the treatment for brain tumors, such as surgery and radiation, can lead to strokes as well. For this reason, it is important to definitively determine that a stroke has occurred, what actually caused the stroke, and the best treatment for full recovery.
Neurology; Ischemic stroke in patients with primary brain tumors; TN Kreisl, et. al.; June 2008
About.com; Brain Tumor as a Cause of Hemorrhagic Stroke; Jose Vega M.D., Ph.D.; November 2008
MedicineNet; Brain Tumor