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Signs Your Brain Isn't Working Right, Say Doctors

Your CPU may be malfunctioning. Here's how to tell.

Your brain is your body's master control center, an incredibly complex organ responsible for your thoughts, emotions, speech, memory and motor skills. As complicated a machine as it is, when something's gone wrong somewhere in the body, the brain sends some fairly basic signals to alert you. Do you know which symptoms to be on the lookout for? Eat This, Not That! Health asked experts to tell us the most common warning signs your brain is trying to tell you. Read on and to ensure your health, remember: Doctors Say "DO NOT" Do This After Your COVID Vaccine.


Blurred Vision In One Eye

middle-aged man covers eyes with hands, does not see,

"If you have blurred vision along with painful eye movements, you could be suffering from inflammation in the nerve in the back of your eye," says Sharon Stoll, DO, a neurologist with Yale Medicine. "This could indicate a condition known as optic neuritis, which could be the presenting symptom of a demyelinating disease such as multiple sclerosis."

The Rx: This condition should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist or a neurologist.


A Stabbing Headache That Only Lasts A Second Or So

Woman having a migraine headache

It might feel like a lightning bolt or ice pick, but, "It is a type of headache variant that is not dangerous," says Stoll. "Although it can be scary and concerning, it is typically not an indication of an underlying neurologic condition such as a tumor or aneurysm."


A "Thunderclap Headache"



Doctors call it a "thunderclap headache": severe head pain that comes on suddenly, usually within seconds, and can last hours. 

The Rx: "In that situation, one should go to the emergency room and a CT scan should be performed to rule out a brain bleed," says Stoll. 


Waking Up Tired

man lying in bed at home suffering from headache or hangover

If you're getting a full night's sleep but often wake up feeling tired, you could be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). "This happens when you have multiple episodes of waking up in the middle of the night because of lack of oxygen to the brain," says Stoll. "Because of frequent nighttime waking the body doesn't go through the normal stages of REM sleep, therefore people wake up not feeling well rested." Most people with sleep apnea are told they snore frequently. It's important to have that evaluated by a doctor. Untreated, it can lead to medical problems such as high blood pressure and stroke.

The Rx: Schedule an appointment for a sleep study to find out if you have OSA, says Stoll. "The treatment is a CPAP machine," she says. "This device, when worn at night, can prevent these episodes and will have you feeling well rested in no time."


Headaches Around The Vertex Of The Head

A picture of brunette showing his hair on head

These kinds of headaches tend to occur every day; are worst when waking up in the morning; are associated with nausea and get better when one gets up and moves around, says Veronica Chiang, MD, a Yale Medicine neurosurgeon and director of the Gamma Knife Center. It could mean that the pressure inside the head is high, and you should seek medical attention.


Uncontrolled Shaking

violently shaking hands of a PD sufferer (Parkinson's disease), tremors of the wrist and hand joints are the main symptom of the disorder

"Uncontrolled shaking of the face, arm and or leg on one side of the body that is not occurring on the other side could mean you are having a seizure," says Chiang. 

The Rx: Seek medical attention ASAP.



Middle aged woman suffering from abdominal pain while sitting on bed at home


"Fecal incontinence combined with urinary retention and weakness in the legs could mean spinal cord dysfunction," says Chiang.

The Rx: Seek medical attention ASAP.


Intense Pain Made Worse By Light And Sound

Woman With Insomnia Covering Head And Ears With Pillow

This could indicate a migraine, the most common type of headache disorder. "When it comes to migraine, the pain can be episodic (occurring on less than 15 days a month) or chronic (occurring on 15 or more days a month). The pain can come on at any time and last for 4 or more hours," says Yale Medicine neurologist Deena Kuruvilla, MD, a migraine and facial pain specialist. "Migraine is often misdiagnosed as sinus headache or sinus condition, temporomandibular dysfunction, tension type headache or neck pain."

The Rx: "Talk to your doctor about your headaches—keep a headache journal describing how often you get them, what they feel like and how long they last," says Kuruvilla. "Your doctor or neurologist may prescribe topiramate, a daily medication to prevent the onset of a migraine. Those with more frequent migraines may be prescribed botulinum toxin (Botox) injections."


Difficulty Concentrating And Reading

looking at laptop feeling headache tired of study learning overwork

This could be caused by concussion, a type of traumatic brain injury. "Concussions can have cognitive symptoms—including difficulties with concentrating, reading and memory," says Kuruvilla. "People may experience emotional responses as well including mood changes, depression or anxiety. Physical complaints can include headache, vision problems, weakness, dizziness, neck pain and difficulty sleeping." 

The Rx: "If you sustained a bump on the head or were in a car accident and are concerned about the symptoms above, it's worth taking a trip to a doctor or emergency department to have it checked out," says Kuruvilla. "They may perform concussion testing if they think you have red-flag symptoms for a concussion."


Neck Pain and Fever

Asian women and stiff shoulders

A headache and fever are common symptoms of a cold or flu bug. But add a stiff neck to those symptoms and it could be a sign of meningitis, an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.

The Rx: If you have a stiff neck accompanied by a headache and fever, consult your healthcare provider ASAP.


Nausea or Vomiting

n suffering from stomach ache

Pressure on the brain can cause "mass effect," leading to symptoms like nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, vision problems and head pain, the American Brain Tumor Association says. 

The Rx: If you're experiencing severe head pain along with vomiting, seek medical attention. 


Trouble Concentrating

Woman is stressed tired and cant focus on her work


If you're having difficulty focusing, concentrating on tasks, or find yourself easily distractible, it could be a sign of undiagnosed ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Many adults with ADHD don't know they have it, the Mayo Clinic says.

The Rx: If you're experiencing disruptive symptoms involving your attention span, talk with your healthcare provider about whether you might have ADHD. 


Worsening Memory

Memory Disorder

Memory problems become more common as we grow older, but they're not part of normal aging. While everyone has memory lapses from time to time, chronic changes in memory can be the sign of a more serious condition such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

The Rx: See a doctor if your memory lapses have become frequent. It's important to treat any potential dementia-related conditions early to slow their progression. 


Sudden Numbness

Mature athletic man getting out of breath while feeling pain during morning run in nature.

A sudden feeling of numbness in an arm or leg, or on one side of the body, could be a sign of stroke, the American Stroke Association says.

The Rx: If you or someone around you experiences sudden numbness, seek medical help ASAP.


Sudden Confusion

Middle age man with grey hair thinking, concerned and nervous with hand on chin

Confusion that comes on suddenly—such as trouble speaking or understanding speech—can be a sign of a stroke, the ASA says. 

The Rx: If you or someone around you experiences sudden confusion, seek medical help ASAP.


Trouble Walking

Man tired after excercise.


If you have trouble walking—including stumbling, an unsteady gait, numbness/tingling in legs, or weakness in one or more of limbs—it should be evaluated immediately,  says Joshua Mansour, MD, a triple-board-certified oncologist in Los Angeles. 




Photo of angry bristle man dressed in shirt in a cage print sitting on sofa in home and using laptop computer

Most people associate depression with chronic feelings of sadness or a continued low mood—and those are certainly predominant signs—but increased feelings of irritation or short-temperedness can also signify the condition. Depressed men often report more anger or lashing out. 

The Rx: If you're increasingly cranky, see a professional about improving your mood (and the comfort of the people around you).   


Personality Changes

Woman suffering from female hormonal emotional pain, mental anguish and imbalance, depression, anger, and uncontrollable mood swings

We all evolve over time. But if you or a loved one has undergone any sudden and drastic changes in personality—from careful to impulsive or energetic and motivated to withdrawn—it could be the sign of a brain tumor, the American Brain Tumor Association says.

The Rx: See a healthcare provider and describe your symptoms fully. 



Full length of exhausted senior woman taking a break while leaning on tree in city

If you regularly feel like you're off balance—or you feel unsteady in combination without symptoms—it's worth a trip the doctor to rule out a serious brain condition such as a tumor or stroke.

The Rx: See a doctor and describe your symptoms fully. 



Man hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness,a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway

Vertigo—a feeling of dizziness with a sense of false movement around you—can be a scary feeling. The good news is that it's not often the sign of a brain tumor. Rather, it's usually caused by inner ear infections or conditions such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis or Meniere's disease. 

The Rx: If you experience vertigo, see a healthcare provider for an ear exam. 


Mood Swings

Worried woman at home alone

The sudden onset of mood swings could be the sign that a brain tumor is disrupting brain function, the ABTA says. 

The Rx: If you've been having abrupt sharp changes in mood, talk with your doctor. 


Erectile Dysfunction

worried senior man in tension at bed.

Ever heard that sex is all in your head? This can get literal: If you're experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED), it's not just a sign you're getting older. It could be a sign that your arteries aren't pumping blood as well as they should, putting you at increased risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke.

The Rx: If you're experiencing ED, schedule a physical and talk about it with your healthcare provider.



elderly Man suffering from headache migraine pain at home on sofa

Persistent or new episodes of weakness, especially when accompanied by a headache, can be a sign of illness, particularly a brain tumor.

The Rx: Tell your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of tingling or weakness in your extremities.


Slurred Speech

Concerned aged mother and adult daughter sit on couch having serious conversation

Slurred speech, also known as dysarthria, may signify a stroke, the American Stroke Association says.

The Rx: See a doctor right away.


Loss of Appetite

Displeased young woman doesn't want to eat her breakfast

When we're eating less or less hungry than usual, it might not ring any alarm bells—maybe we need to take off that extra five pounds—but a loss of appetite can be a sneaky symptom of depression or anxiety disorder. (It happens when the brain's "fight or flight" response produces appetite-suppressing hormones.)

The Rx: If your appetite has waned, it's worth looking at your mental health, and possibly consulting your doctor or a mental-health professional. 


The "Worst Headache of Your Life" 

woman with closed eyes suffering from headache

A brain aneurysm occurs when a weakened blood vessel in the brain begins to balloon. When the vessel ruptures, leaking blood can cause sudden, severe head pain.

The Rx: Experts say this phenomenon feels like "the worst headache of your life," and it needs quick medical attention. 


Repetitive Thoughts


If you're plagued by repetitive gloomy thoughts, find yourself replaying a negative experience in your head, or always defaulting to the worst-case scenario, you could be catastrophizing, and it could mean you're experiencing depression or chronic anxiety. 

The Rx: Your doctor or a mental-health professional can help. 


Hearing Changes

Asian men use hands to close their ears.

Hearing loss and ringing in the ears can have many causes. But sudden hearing changes are always worthy of investigation by a doctor. 


A Worsening Headache

woman with headache in front of a bathroom mirror

Many of us have recurring headaches. But experts say that a headache that's changing—that happens more frequently, has become more intense, or wakes you up in the middle of the night—always warrants a trip to the doctor for an evaluation.


Double Vision

Blurred and double vision while driving

You can have double vision for a variety of reasons, even because of something like dehydration, says Mansour. However, if it happens more than once, it could be a symptom of a brain tumor.

The Rx: If you experience repeated episodes of double vision, see your doctor. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael
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