When Does a Pounding Headache Actually Signal a Brain Tumor?

When you’re hit with a pounding headache for no obvious reason, you probably assume you haven’t had enough water, didn’t sleep well, or have some muscle tension you’re holding onto due to stress.

After all, the causes of headaches and migraines can range from the foods you eat to spending too much time in front of your computer screen (guilty!). But when that ache starts to linger, feel severe, or come back often, it’s only normal to wonder if it could be pointing to something more serious.

Take a deep breath: Odds are excellent that your headache is not a brain tumor, even if you can’t get through a teen tearjerker without seeing someone (usually young, female, and lovely) expire tragically from the disease.

While a headache is sometimes one of the symptoms of a brain tumor, chances are, as a surprisingly hot Arnold Schwarzenegger put it in 1990’s Kindergarten Cop,“It’s not a toomah!”

How often is a headache a sign of a brain tumor?

“Headaches are incredibly common and brain tumors are incredibly rare,” says Cameron Brennan, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Around five out of 100,000 people a year are diagnosed with some kind of brain tumor, whereas one in seven people report a migraine each year.”