Headache is such a common ailment that many people tend to ignore it, especially when there are available pain killers and other medications around to treat it and ease the pain. Findings of a new study, however, reveal that sometimes headaches can be the only indication of brain tumor, a far more serious health problem.

Researchers of a new study to be published in the January 2015 issue of the journal Neurosurgery said that headache could be the only symptom of brain tumor in many instances and recommended neuroimaging tests such as CT scans for individuals with headache as these could be helpful in spotting the presence of the disease at its early stage. Early diagnoses of brain tumors are crucial because it can facilitate early treatment.

Study researcher Ammar Hawasli, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., and colleagues, said that people who ignore their headaches potentially put themselves at risk of delaying and even missing a diagnosis. The researchers said that individuals who have brain tumors may have isolated headaches but lack other neurological symptoms.

For their study, the researchers examined 95 patients who have brain tumors. Almost half of these patients exhibited a combination of symptoms that included cognitive and speech dysfunction, seizures and other neurological issues. However, a quarter of these patients only had isolated headaches and did not have these other symptoms that would indicate an abnormal growth of cells in the brain.  

The researchers' suggestion for neuroimaging tests is in response to the Choosing Wisely Initiative, a proposed guideline that calls for the reduction of the use of neuroimaging tests in the U.S. for patients with headaches in a bid to limit the use of unwanted and expensive medical tests.

"Patients with brain tumors may present with isolated headaches in the absence of other neurological symptoms and signs," Hawasli and colleagues said. "Although the intentions are laudable, these guidelines are inconsistent with the neurosurgeon's experience with patients with brain tumor."

Of the patients involved in their study, 11 only had headache as symptom of their brain tumor. Seven of these patients, however, had migraine and other kinds of headaches that would not have called for them to undergo neuroimaging under the proposed guidelines.

Based on their analysis, the researchers said that neuroimaging would be either delayed or not performed in up to 7 percent of patients with brain tumors should the guidelines be adopted. 

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