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Serious doctor examining brain scan

Brain Symptoms


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What are the signs of brain problems?

Brain symptoms can occur spontaneously or as the result of a traumatic injury to the brain or due to an infection, tumor, vascular abnormality, or other condition. With head trauma, brain symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the impact. Head trauma can cause a skull fracture or a rupture of blood vessels in the brain that can lead to hematoma (collection of blood) and contusions (bruises of the brain tissue). Injuries to the head are classified as open (when the source of trauma, such as a bullet or glass shards, penetrates the brain) or closed (when the object does not penetrate the skull).

Symptoms of milder injuries to the brain include headache, dizziness, fatigue, lethargy, memory loss, confusion, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to light, and nausea with or without vomiting. In addition to these symptoms, a more severe brain injury can also cause dilated pupils; weakness or numbness; behavioral changes; incoherent speech; muscle twitching, spasms, or seizures; and extreme sleepiness or inability to wake up.

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Brain symptoms also include headache, which affects millions of Americans each year. There are different types of headaches, including vascular (such as migraine), inflammatory, and tension headaches. In addition to severe pain on one or both sides of the head, migraine is often accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light, and auras (visual disturbances). Vascular headaches also include those caused by fever or high blood pressure. Tension in the muscles of the head, face and neck can cause painful tension headaches.

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Brain symptoms can be important predictors of a serious underlying condition, such as an aneurysm. An aneurysm is a weakness in the blood vessels inside the brain. An aneurysm can rupture or press against other structures in the brain, causing cerebral bleeding and severe headaches. Other symptoms include loss of vision or double vision, neck stiffness, and eye pain. Stroke and transient ischemic attack are also serious conditions that can produce brain symptoms. They occur when the brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen, either from a blood clot that disrupts blood flow or a hemorrhage that causes bleeding in the brain. Symptoms include severe headache, confusion and memory loss, paralysis or muscle weakness on one side of the body, numbness, and personality changes.

Brain symptoms can be caused by serious or life-threatening conditions such as stroke or head trauma. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms: severe drowsiness; abnormal behavior; stiff neck, loss of coordination; severe headache; altered vision, hearing, or senses; or loss of consciousness.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 3, 2016

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Medical References

  1. NINDS traumatic brain Injury information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
  2. NINDS headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
  3. Marar M, McIlvain NM, Fields SK, Comstock RD. Epidemiology of concussions among United States high school athletes in 20 sports. Am J Sports Med 2012; 40:747.
  4. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  5. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.

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