Signs and symptoms of patients with brain tumors presenting to the emergency department

J Emerg Med. May-Jun 1993;11(3):253-8. doi: 10.1016/0736-4679(93)90042-6.


This retrospective chart review was conducted to determine the presenting signs and symptoms of patients with primary brain tumors diagnosed in the emergency department. There were 101 patients (65 males and 36 females) identified with a hospital discharge diagnosis of primary brain tumor who were admitted through the emergency department. The presenting symptoms included headache (56 patients), altered mental status (51 patients), ataxia (41 patients), nausea or vomiting (37 patients), weakness (27 patients), speech deficits (21 patients), and sensory abnormalities (18 patients). The presenting signs included motor weakness (37 patients), ataxia (37 patients), papilledema (28 patients), cranial nerve palsies (26 patients), visual deficits (20 patients), and speech deficits (12 patients). The average age was 42.8 years, with a range of 3 days to 88 years. The majority of tumors were malignant astrocytomas. Tumor location was cortical in 68 patients, subcortical in 9 patients, and brainstem or cerebellum in 24 patients. In conclusion, patients of all ages may present to the emergency department with a variety of symptoms resulting from a primary brain tumor. Headache and altered mental status were common in our series of patients, but symptoms will depend on the size, location, and type of tumor. A complete neurologic examination is essential, including evaluation for papilledema.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ataxia / etiology
  • Brain Neoplasms / complications
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cranial Nerve Diseases / etiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Headache / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nausea / etiology
  • Papilledema / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vomiting / etiology