Symptoms of a Brainstem Tumor

A brainstem tumor can cause various symptoms or cause no symptoms at all at first, depending on the location and specific type of the tumor.

The brainstem controls some of the basic functions of life, including breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure. It also controls the motor functions of the eyes, facial muscles, and the neck. Motor and sensory signals from other parts of the body also need to go through the brainstem via long tracts. As a result, symptoms of brainstem gliomas can be very variable and in some cases quite severe when they appear. Common symptoms associated with a brainstem glioma include:

  • Problems in eye movement or eyelids, such as inability to gaze to the side, drooping eyelid(s), and double vision
  • Facial weakness, causing asymmetry or drooping of saliva
  • Trouble swallowing, or gagging while eating
  • Limb weakness, difficulty walking or standing, abnormal gait
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Failure to thrive in young children

The symptoms seen in a patient depends on the location of the tumor and its specific type. For example, if the brainstem glioma is in the tectum of the midbrain, it usually causes hydrocephalus and in turn cause headache, nausea and vomiting as the main symptoms, and other symptoms such as limb weakness are rare. Brainstem gliomas occurring in the midbrain tegmentum and medulla, on the other hand, often cause limb weakness, abnormal gait, and difficulty in walking or standing.

Because the symptoms can be caused by more than one condition, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible (see Diagnosing and Treating a Brainstem Tumor). Of course, not all children who have symptoms mentioned above have brain tumors — brainstem gliomas are quite rare.

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  • Director, Pediatric Neurological Surgery
Phone: 212-746-2363
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  • Victor and Tara Menezes Clinical Scholar in Neuroscience
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  • Co-director, Weill Cornell Medicine CSF Leak Program
Phone: (718) 670-1837
  • Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist
  • Professor, Neurological Surgery
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Phone: 212-746-1996 (Manhattan) / 718-780-3070 (Brooklyn)

Reviewed by: Mark Souweidane, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: January 2021

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787