Brain tumours, as a result of the complexity of the organ on which they develop, can cause a range of disparate symptoms. Whether benign or malignant in nature, these growths can impact everything from our personality and mood, to the way we move and speak. You might be wondering, then, if a brain tumour could cause someone to develop a fear of heights.
In this article, Climb Above Fear explores what brain tumours are and whether it is possible for them to cause acrophobia or related conditions like vertigo.
What are brain tumours?
The term brain tumour covers a variety of medical conditions that affect people in many different ways. In the simplest terms, though, they can be described as follows:
“A growth of cells in the brain that multiplies in an abnormal, uncontrollable way.”NHS
Common symptoms of brain tumours include headaches, nausea and dizziness. When diagnosing a brain tumour, medical professionals are eager to establish whether it falls into one of two categories: benign or malignant.
Brain tumours are classified into grades, and those labelled as grade 1 or 2 (low grade) are considered benign. This means that they are non-cancerous, grow fairly slowly and have a lower chance than malignant tumours of returning after being treated.
It is estimated that around 70-80% of all brain tumours are benign. However, even non-cancerous tumours can cause problems, depending on where they appear in the brain.
Tumours categorised as grade 3 or 4 are referred to as malignant, which means they are cancerous. These high grade masses on the brain can grow quickly and may return even if treatment is used to remove them. Primary malignant tumours start in the brain, whereas secondary malignant tumours spread into the brain from another part of the body.
Are vertigo and acrophobia the same thing?
Before we explore whether brain tumours can cause vertigo and acrophobia, let’s first establish exactly what these terms mean. First of all, despite the fact that they are often used interchangeably, acrophobia and vertigo are not the same thing.
Acrophobia is the name given to an intense fear of heights or being away from the ground. Vertigo is a specific form of dizziness that can be a symptom of many different conditions, including (but far from limited to) acrophobia.
Vertigo is characterised by a spinning sensation that leaves people feeling disoriented and affects their sense of balance. It can be triggered by looking up or down at something, hence its overlap with a fear of heights.
Can brain tumours cause acrophobia?
When it comes to brain tumours, there are so many variations that it is perfectly reasonable to propose that in some cases they could cause a person to develop acrophobia. After all, our fears are rooted in the way we think and tumours interfere with the workings of the brain. That being said, of all the information we have on brain tumours and the potential myriad of symptoms related to them, there are no available accounts of them causing acrophobia in patients.
In addition to the physical setbacks brain tumours sometimes cause, they can also be responsible for significant changes in a person’s demeanour and mood. Common behavioural symptoms of tumours include increased aggression, changes in libido and heightened emotions.
With this in mind, if a person was uneasy around heights before developing a brain tumour, and then their tumour caused them to experience intense emotions like anxiety, they could in theory develop acrophobia as a result.
Can brain tumours cause vertigo?
A number of symptoms that brain tumour patients may experience are also symptoms linked to vertigo. These include:
- Balance issues
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty performing basic movements
As a result, it seems that it is possible for brain tumours to cause vertigo. Whether this occurs largely depends on the specific location of the tumour within the brain. A research review on brain tumours by Madhusoodanan et al explains:
“Due to the neuronal connections of the brain, a lesion in one region may manifest a multitude of symptoms depending on the function of the underlying neuronal foci. Symptoms of brain lesions depend on the functions of the networks underlying the affected areas.”
Vertigo is often tied to issues of the inner ear. It is possible, then, that tumours located near the ear canals could cause dizziness of this kind. However, most cases of vertigo linked to brain tumours are caused by those that form in the cerebellum. This is an area at the lower back of the brain, behind the brainstem. Though fairly small, it contains 80% of the brain’s neurons and is responsible for vital functions like movement and coordination. Tumours on or near the brainstem and frontal lobe can also cause vertigo-like symptoms.
Are you worried that your vertigo could be caused by a tumour?
It is incredibly unlikely that vertigo is a sign that you have a brain tumour. In fact, more than 90% of vertigo cases are known as peripheral vertigo, which is caused by conditions affecting the inner ear. The main culprits are likely to be benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or labyrinthitis.
The former is caused by sudden changes in head position that results in calcium carbonate crystals moving through the inner ear. This causes false signals to be sent to the brain that trigger a spinning sensation. Labyrinthitis, meanwhile, is caused by an infection within the labyrinth area of the ear, which contains the cochlea and vestibular system. It can produce symptoms like unsteadiness, tinnitus and blurred vision.
If you experience recurring episodes of vertigo, you should consult a doctor to gain an accurate diagnosis. For cases where medication does not provide effective treatment, you may be referred for an MRI or CT scan, which will reveal any issues with the brain itself. As we’ve said, though, is it highly unlikely that vertigo is a sign of a brain tumour.
Can brain tumours cause vertigo and acrophobia?
Based on the plethora of information we have on the various symptoms of brain tumours, it would appear that in some cases brain tumours can cause people to experience vertigo. When it comes to acrophobia, however, there is no indication that this fear has any links to brain tumours.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed in this article and are concerned about what it could mean, consult a medical professional. You can rest assured, though, that in most cases such traits are caused by non-serious conditions that are easily treatable.