Glioblastoma (GBM): Signs and Symptoms

Glioblastoma (GBM): Signs and Symptoms

Glioblastoma (GBM), also called glioblastoma multiforme, is an aggressive type of brain cancer. While the cancer does not usually spread to other parts of the body, it can quickly spread to other areas of the brain. As the tumor puts pressure on the brain, you can develop a variety of symptoms.

Some glioblastoma symptoms, like headache and nausea, are common in all types of brain cancers. These symptoms are known as generalized symptoms. Other symptoms—and how severe they are—can depend on where the tumor is and how big it is. These symptoms, which include vision changes and loss of bladder control, are known as focal symptoms.

GBM symptoms may develop slowly and worsen over time or happen suddenly.

Knowing the two main symptom categories of GBM—generalized and focal—and what impact they can have can help you better understand what to expect if you or a loved one has glioblastoma.

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Glioblastoma can cause symptoms that can occur in many other types of brain tumors. These are known as generalized symptoms. These symptoms tend to have much overlap with symptoms of other, more common medical conditions. A healthcare provider can determine whether your symptoms are due to GBM. 

Some generalized symptoms you may experience if you have glioblastoma include:


Headache is one of the most common symptoms of GBMs and other brain tumors. Brain cancer-related headaches are often the result of a tumor pressing on sensitive nerves and blood vessels in the brain. A brain tumor-related headache is often persistent and may:

  • Get worse with exercise, change of position, or coughing
  • Feel worse when you wake up and get better over the next few hours
  • Cause steady pain that feels different from migraine
  • Cause a throbbing sensation (but not always)
  • Not respond to over-the-counter pain relief medications, like aspirin

Nausea and Vomiting

Tumors in the brain cause pressure in the skull, inflammation, and the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (a watery fluid that flows in and around your brain). These three factors can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications like Zofran (ondansetron) to help control this symptom. They may also recommend surgical removal of the tumor to reduce the pressure in your skull.

Memory Impairment

Occasionally, people with glioblastoma experience memory loss or forgetfulness. While short-term memory impairment is more common, long-term memory may be affected in some people. 

Dealing with memory loss can be challenging. Thankfully, there are ways you can try to manage memory problems, including by staying involved in activities you enjoy and getting enough sleep each night.

Generalized Seizure

About 50% of people with brain tumors will experience a seizure (abnormal electrical activity in the brain) at some point. For some people, the seizure might be a generalized seizure, meaning it starts on both sides of the brain at the same time.

A generalized seizure can be characterized by a sudden onset, which may last for a short period (about 2–3 minutes) and may cause loss of consciousness and bodily functions. You may feel sleepy or confused after the seizure passes.

Although it might be one of your first indicators of glioblastoma, most seizures are not due to brain tumors.


Fatigue is tiredness or lack of energy that interferes with your ability to perform everyday tasks. Fatigue is a common symptom in many conditions, including brain tumors like glioblastoma. The fatigue may be accompanied by excessive daily sleepiness, can be persistent, and affect a person’s daily living.

Other symptoms of glioblastoma can depend on factors like the location and size of the tumor. For instance, if the tumor is affecting the part of your brain that controls speech, your speech may be altered. Focal symptoms can vary widely but may include:

Focal Seizure

A focal seizure is a seizure that begins on one side of the brain. You may develop this type of seizure rather than a generalized seizure based on the location of the tumor.

Focal seizures cause the sensation of flashing lights, sudden speech impairments, and rhythmic jerking movements of the arm and face.

Urinary Incontinence

About 40% of people with glioblastoma report loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence). The brain has a nerve connection with the bladder and pelvic muscles. The pressure of a tumor on the nerves can interfere with the brain’s ability to control bladder function, causing urinary incontinence.

Cognitive Impairments

Glioblastoma can cause impairments in how you receive information and act on it. This could include difficulty learning, speaking, writing, reading, concentrating, multitasking, and planning. Sometimes the changes might only be noticed by the person with the tumor rather than the people around them.

The specific cognitive impairments you experience can depend on which area of the brain the tumor affects. Changes can happen when the tumor presses on a blood supply, which can hinder blood flow and cause brain tissue death in the affected area.

Personality Changes

Glioblastoma can cause significant changes in your behavior and mood. 

For instance, a person once described as motivated could become less motivated. Or someone who was once described as outgoing or friendly could become withdrawn and easily irritated. These changes are also known as neuropsychiatric symptoms and can be distressing both for the person with the condition and their loved ones.

Aggression, hallucinations, and impulsivity are other potential symptoms of a brain tumor like glioblastoma. Such symptoms can develop based on factors like where the tumor is located and whether it has caused injury.


Some people with GBM might develop depression after their diagnosis due to the toll cancer can take. However, some people might develop depression because of the brain tumor even before their diagnosis. This is because the tumor can disrupt how the brain functions and cause depression.

Depression may be a likelier symptom of glioblastoma if the tumor is affecting the frontal lobe (the part of the brain behind your forehead) or temporal lobes (the lower sides of your brain). 

Depression is a mood disorder that affects your daily life, including how you feel, act, and sleep. You may have long lengths of time where you are sad, uninterested in things that used to bring you joy, have less energy, or have a hard time sleeping.

Vision Problems

Changes in vision may be an early indicator of glioblastoma progression. This can occur when a GBM tumor occurs near the pathway of the optic nerve, which controls eyesight, compressing the nerve as the tumor grows.

Glioblastoma may cause blurry vision, double vision, and either partial or complete loss of vision. The tumor may also cause your eyes to move abnormally or to be more sensitive to light.

Other Cranial Nerve Symptoms

Aside from the optic nerve, glioblastoma can affect other nerves that send electric signals from the brain to other parts of the body, including the face, neck, chest, and abdomen. This may cause symptoms related to what the affected nerve controls. The symptoms may include:

  • Balance problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hearing issues, such as ringing or buzzing in the ears
  • Loss of hearing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble speaking

Because of how aggressive GBM can be, timely medical care is crucial. Speak with a healthcare provider if you experience symptoms like:

  • Persistent headache that worsens or doesn’t get better after taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medications
  • Repeated forgetfulness
  • Eye changes like blurry vision
  • Unexplained nausea and vomiting
  • Constant fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Mental health and behavioral changes

These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have glioblastoma. Many other more common conditions can cause these symptoms, as well. But you’ll especially want to consider seeing a healthcare provider if the symptoms don’t go away or worsen.

Glioblastoma symptoms can affect many aspects of your health. Some symptoms of glioblastoma are similar to other types of brain cancer and include headache, nausea, and fatigue. Other symptoms of GBM can depend on where in the brain the tumor is located. Based on where the tumor is, you may experience seizures, personality changes, and vision problems.

The symptoms may appear suddenly or develop gradually over time. If you have any symptoms of GBM, consider seeing a healthcare provider—especially if the symptoms don’t go away or worsen. Since the cancer can spread to other areas of your brain quickly, swift diagnosis and treatment is crucial.

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