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Date of last update: 10/21/2017.

Forum Name: Brain Tumors

Question: Mental Flashes-Could it be a tumor? How do I ask a doctor?

 Nadia25 - Fri Sep 05, 2008 2:18 am

A few months ago, I walked outside of my office and felt this weird "flash". It was basically like deja vu in a way, except that it did not happen. It lasted only a few seconds, and I could not place it. A week or so later as I was walking out, I remembered it happening and before I could do anything else, it happened again. It was odd, but the "visions" were few and far between. Then, it increased to eventually get to where it is 3-4 times a day for maybe 2 minutes each. I try hard to isolate and figure out what it is I am seeing. There are certain things that seem to "trigger" them, and sometimes they come completely out of no where. There are flashes of things. An Asian language, a red switch, something done wrong the first time, but was known for the second time. . . I can never quite lock onto it or relate it to myself. Although the memories or flashes or whatever do not seem to be of anything sad, when they finish I am overcome with grief. My heart is beating like crazy and sometimes I am shaking. Lately, I have been getting terrible headaches that last for hours. Usually my headaches are in my forehead area, but these seem to be over my whole head. Sometimes they get to the point where I almost do not want to close my eyes for fear they will not open again and things will just end. They are not terribly painful, but make me dizzy and are kind of consuming.
A few weeks ago, I watched a fictional show, and on it one of the characters had flashes that seemed a lot like I was having. Quick at first and then longer and closer together. On the show, it turned out to be this memory from his past, but were coming across that way because he had a tumor. Obviously, it kind of freaked me out. If I go to a doctor and explain this, I think they will give me some Tylenol and tell me I am stressed or something and I will feel dumb and will have wasted $50 or so. If I do not go, though, and later find out something really was wrong. . . I can not tell if I am being paranoid or not.
I do not have a regular doctor, or would probably feel more comfortable. I also had a big problem with a doctor when I was a teenager that has caused me to feel a bit skeptical of doctors. My mind tells me to trust doctors, but my memory tells me I am on my own.

Not sure if any of this will help, but just in case:
I am a female, 26 years old.
5'6" 175 pounds
I have been losing weight by cutting calories, but doing it gradually (25 pounds over about a year). There have been no changes to what I eat, just how much.
No tobacco, drugs, or alcohol.
I generally have between 6-8 glasses of water each day.
Oversleep a lot (many days 12-13 hours).
Usually have around 40 oz. of caffeine each day.
I do not take any medicine, except for Aleve during my periods.
My job is a basic desk job with an evening shift.
Although I have stress, it is not at an unusual level.
Nothing traumatic has happened recently.
I decreased elevation by around 2,500 feet when I moved, but that was over a year ago.
I do change elevation at least 4 times a week (but only by a few hundred feet as far as I can tell. . .basically from the valley to the top of the mountain and back).
I do not have any allergies that I know of.
I have never had any surgeries.
I have never given birth or been pregnant.
My bowel movements are generally once a week except during my period, when they are daily.
My periods seem about regular, but were extremely heavy when I was in my teens.

The "flashes" have happened at home, in the car, in a store, and at work. Both night and day. Both with other people around and without.

Any ideas or suggestions welcome as to what might be causing this, what I might be able to do on my on, or what to ask the doctor (and what kind of doctor to see). Any other information that I can provide, please let me know. I really appreciate anyone who spent their time to read this. Thank you.
 Dr. K. Eisele - Thu Oct 16, 2008 1:01 am

User avatar Dear Nadia:

There are a number of different things that could be causing these symptoms, some psychiatric and some "somatic." (Somatic is the new buzz word for purely physical symptoms.)

Going through your symptoms as a psychiatrist, I'd say there is a good likelihood that you may have Panic Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You did mention no recent traumas, but what about past trauma?

Going through your symptoms as a physician, however, I noted that you don't have a regular doctor, and so you may not have had a general physical exam in a while. At your age, there is a possibility that your symptoms may be caused by thyroid dysfunction, and that is a simple blood test. Anytime there is a symptom such as headaches that become more frequent, or that have changed in character, such as intensity, location, duration, etc., a visit to your primary care provider is in order. It would be my expectation, that in absence of other symptoms, at least a CT scan of your brain, would be of interest. At a minimum, a thorough neurological examination is required. Another potential cause is something such as pheochromocytoma, but this is a very rare condition. (A pheochromocytoma is a tumor of the adrenal glands in which too much of a hormone is produced which can cause the racing heart, increased blood pressure, and other symptoms.)

If there are any known major illnesses in your family's medical history, you should maybe jot these down and take this information with you when you visit a primary care provider.

I wish I could be more specific, but hopefully this gives you a place to start.

Good luck!
 Dr. E. Seigle - Tue Oct 28, 2008 2:16 pm

Hi Nadia25,

Sorry for the delay: There appears to be two main possible causes for your symptoms: unusual kinds of seizures can cause such symptoms, and I think that you might have these evaluated first by a neurologist. A tumor is possible as you considered and should be ruled out. Migraine headaches and other conditions should also be considered I would not panic and expect a tumor, but one should be on the side of caution and evaluate it to be sure.

Afterward, if nothing is uncovered, your symptoms may represent what is called a dissociative disorder, in which a forgotten memory suddenly appears, but not the entire memory, just a fragment of it, and in a brief, "flash", such as yours. In such a situation, a psychiatrist can help determine if this is so and what is best to do about it.

Good luck.

-Eliot Seigle MD

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