When Depression Is The First Sign Of A Brain Tumor

The 54-year-old patient was physically weaker, had stopped showing interest in her past hobbies and was spending more and more time in bed. She said she was feeling irritable, lacked willpower and blamed herself for not being effective at work. Her husband also mentioned problems with her memory.

After running lab tests on her and finding no abnormality, her doctors suspected the cause was psychological and prescribed different antidepressants, one after another, when they failed to work. But it turned out that the woman, who at that point had suffered from unexplained, untreatable depression for six months, had several tumors in her brain — especially in the left frontal lobe, which is linked to more depressive symptoms than tumors in the back of the brain. After surgeons removed the growths, her depressive symptoms completely disappeared within a month. The discovery put a stop to her depression and prevented further brain damage, as well as saved her life.

Doctors usually only order brain imaging scans for patients who have neurological symptoms like seizures, vision and hearing loss or cognition problems, but this case is an important reminder that sometimes a psychiatric illness — in this case, depression — is the only outward sign of a brain tumor, the authors write in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

The woman turned out to have Meningiomatosis — a condition in which several tumors, called meningiomas, are present in the brain. Meningiomas can be deadly, with a five-year survival rate of 70 percent. (To put that in perspective, which is worse than breast cancer’s rate is 89 percent.)

To illustrate just how tricky it is to diagnose these benign, asymptomatic tumors, a 2004 study on meningiomas examined 72 cases and found that 21 percent of the patients first —> Read More