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Is Your Morning Headache a Sign of a Brain Tumor?

Is Your Morning Headache a Sign of a Brain Tumor?

We’ve all woken up to it – that relentless head-throbbing with each heart pulsation, that dull, perpetual ache, or even that recurring cranial stab. Whichever form it may take, a morning headache is miserable and often unnerving, making waking up the last thing you want to do.

Beyond their undeniable discomfort, morning headaches possess an additional adverse layer as they are one of the primary symptoms of brain tumors. But do not stress, while brain tumors may be a potential cause for your nagging headache, it is much more likely caused by other sources. In fact, according to the National Brain Tumor Society, about 700,000 or 22% of people in the United States are currently living with a brain tumor while the incidence rate for headaches is estimated to be 78% of the total population (National Brain Tumor Society). Further, 1 in every 4,000 children with headaches is diagnosed with a brain tumor.

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So if your headache is not caused by a brain tumor, what is the instigator of all that pain? One possible cause is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing patterns throughout sleep. These pauses can last anywhere from a couple seconds to several minutes, and can occur as often as 30 times in a single hour (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute).

There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea syndrome (Mayo Clinic). Obstructive is the most common form and occurs when muscles in the throat relax, causing the airway to collapse or become blocked in the middle of sleeping (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute). Central sleep apnea is a result of improper signaling from the brain to muscles responsible for breathing and complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central.

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Aside from chronic morning headaches, common symptoms of sleep apnea include (Mayo Clinic):

  • Snoring
  • Sudden awakenings
  • Waking with dry mouth
  • Waking with sore throat
  • Insomnia (difficulties remaining asleep)
  • Exhaustion throughout the day
  • Attention deficits
  • Irritability
  • Episodes of breathing disruption observed by another individual

Morning headaches in addition to some or all of the symptoms listed above, can most likely be attributed to sleep apnea. While highly unlikely, there remains some potential that morning headaches and sleep apnea may be due to a brain tumor. However, this occasionally can be distinguished from standard headaches. Here are a few indicators of when to be concerned:

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  • Experiencing numbness or weakness in limbs
  • Visual disturbances
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Difficulty in speech and word choice
  • Headaches are new
  • Headaches worsen over the course of several days, weeks or months
  • Headaches start first thing in the morning and get better as the day goes

If any of the above symptoms accompany your morning headaches, physicians at the UC Irvine Health Comprehensive Brain Tumor program recommend seeking examination from a neurologist. If not, the cause is likeIy to be uncancerous, although brain tumors do not always present the same symptoms. In fact, up to 60% of individuals with brain tumors do not even experience headaches (CNN).

Even if the causes of morning headaches may not be life-threatening, they still can impact daily functioning and therefore can impede with quality of life. Some possible solutions for morning headaches(National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mayo Clinic)

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  • Certain lifestyle changes (i.e. quitting use of harmful substances, weight loss)
  • Switching pillows or mattresses
  • Maintaining a healthy and consistent sleep-wake cycle
  • Taking a warm bath

Aside from sleep apnea and brain tumors, morning headaches can be caused by numerous other including but not limited to: blood pressure issues, chronic tension, migraine headaches, stress, withdrawal from medications or recreational drugs, and many more (Weil). Ultimately, if you’re experiencing morning headaches there is likely a benign or less severe underlying reason than a brain tumor. According to CNN News, 99% of the time you’re experiencing a headache, it’s not a brain tumor (CNN).

Featured photo credit: Castelli Law via castellilaw.com

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Lindsay Benster

Student pursuing a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of San Diego

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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