Does your very bad headache have you fearing you have a brain tumor? Does the pain make you think it could only be from a brain tumor?

Though the only way to rule out a tumor is with a scan of your brain, this doesn’t mean that a really bad headache is most likely cancer.

There are a number of causes for a really severe headache other than cancer or a ruptured aneurysm.

Sinus headaches have been known to trigger significant head pain.

Anyone with migraine disorder knows that this can bring on a searing headache.

But there’s yet another condition that can cause a really intense headache — plus additional symptoms that can make the sufferer become terrified that it’s a brain tumor.

The condition is called intracranial hypotension syndrome.

Intracranial Hyptension Syndrome

“Intracranial hypotension results from a cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) leak,” says Sumeer Sathi, MD, a neurosurgeon and founding member of Long Island Neuroscience Specialists who treats brain tumors.

“This leak causes a decreased amount of CSF that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

“CSF leaks can be from a leak in the spinal canal (i.e., spinal tap), defects in the spinal tube, and ventricular shunt malfunctions.

“Intracranial hypotension can cause a syndrome that presents in a variety of symptoms.

“The most typical symptom is called a positional headache; the headache tends to worsen in an upright position and improves while lying flat.

“Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, vertigo, tinnitus, fatigue and neck pain.

“Onset of symptoms can be abrupt or gradual depending on the cause.”

Digging Deaper into IHS

A study was published in Neurology in which 11 people with incapacitating headaches were found to have enlarged pituitary glands (the gland is in the brain).

Their headache symptoms were those of intracranial hypotension syndrome.

However, intracranial hypotension, at least in the study subjects, had a variety of etiologies, such as unexplained fluid loss, spontaneous occurrence, cervical spine surgery and lumbar puncture via spinal tap.

The headaches were accompanied by nausea, neck pain, visual and hearing problems, and even facial numbness.

As you can see, IHS produces symptoms that very much mimic those of a brain tumor.

Enlarged Pituitary Gland

The researchers believe that the sinuses, that surround the gland, accommodate the low fluid pressure.

They do this by becoming engorged…with blood. This doesn’t make the diagnosis easy.

However, the study results could prevent some people from getting mistakenly thought to have a brain tumor, when they really have intracranial hypotension syndrome.

According to MRI exams, the pituitary glands were 50 percent larger, on average, than normal.

IHS Treatment

“Treatment is aimed at correcting the defect/hole in the dura mater that holds the CSF,” says Dr. Sathi.

When surgery is not required to repair the leak, treatments may consist of bed rest, hydration and corticosteroids.

Dr. Sathi’s expertise includes spine surgery and treating brain tumors including metastasis, gliomas, meningiomas and acoustic neuromas using gamma knife radiosurgery. Long Island Neuroscience Specialists is a multidisciplinary group of neuro-spine surgeons and an interventional pain management anesthesiologist.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image credit: Idrewfedd