Symptoms of Ependymoma

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Ependymomas are rare central nervous system (CNS) tumors that occur in the brain and spinal cord. It is possible to develop one at any age, but they more commonly occur in children.

Ependymomas are usually genetic and caused by dysfunctional glial cells, which provide support, or "glue," for neurons throughout the CNS. Ependymomas account for only about 1.8% of total CNS tumors.

This article will cover various ependymoma symptoms, complications, and when to see your physician.

MRI of the brain

Pixfly / Getty Images

Frequent Symptoms

Ependymoma symptoms can vary depending on the grade and location of the tumor. Ependymomas tend to be slow growing, so symptoms can begin slowly and worsen gradually over several months.

Tumors that form in the brain may have different symptoms than those in the spine. Brain tumors can put pressure against areas in the brain that affect functions of the body.

The primary symptoms of ependymoma in the brain include:

  • Headaches or head pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurry vision or loss of vision
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Confusion or memory problems
  • Difficulty speaking

Symptoms caused by an ependymoma in the spine include:

  • Back pain
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Bowel or bladder issues

Discuss Symptoms with a Physician

Symptoms of brain or spinal cord tumors should always be examined. Left untreated, they could lead to serious—even life-threatening—illness. If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your physician.

Rare Symptoms

The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by a fluid known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF cushions the brain and spinal cord and helps deliver nutrients throughout the CNS.

Syringomyelia is a condition caused by CSF disruption that causes a fluid-filled cyst in the spinal cord. These cysts can grow large over time and damage the spinal cord and brain stem. This damage can injure nerves responsible for delivering essential information from the brain to the body.

The symptoms caused by syringomyelia are similar to symptoms caused by an ependymoma. Syringomyelia can also make symptoms worse and usually require treatment, such as surgical removal or drainage.

On rare occasions, ependymomas can form outside of the CNS and cause other unique symptoms depending on their location and grade.

Symptoms of CNS Tumors

All CNS tumor symptoms can cause significant health problems and can potentially be fatal. If you experience any symptoms of an ependymoma, meet with your physician as soon as possible.


It is essential to speak with your physician if you have any symptoms of ependymoma or any other type of CNS tumor. This is the best way to develop a treatment plan that is catered to your individual diagnosis.

Complications from an ependymoma may involve usual symptoms. These symptoms can worsen without medical treatment and can be life-threatening.

Surgery is a common treatment for ependymoma, but there are always potential risks with surgery, particularly spinal or brain surgery.

Some potential complications of ependymoma surgery may include:

  • Sensory loss
  • Wound complications
  • CSF leaks
  • Bowel and bladder disfunction
  • Spinal instability or deformation (seen more commonly in children than adults)

In many cases these complications are temporary. Your physician and surgeon can talk to you about the benefits and risks of surgery for your diagnosis.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience any of the following symptoms, meet with your physician as soon as possible, as they could be a sign of an ependymoma or another life-threatening medical issue:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble walking
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Loss of vision
  • Balance issues
  • Confusion or memory problems

A Word From Verywell

An ependymoma is a serious medical issue that requires treatment and observation. Neurological symptoms of any kind can be potentially harmful or fatal. If you are experiencing symptoms of an ependymoma, meet with your physician for examination as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve your prognosis.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cachia D, Johnson DR, Kaufmann TJ, et al. Case-based review: ependymomas in adultsNeurooncol Pract. 2018;5(3):142-153. doi:10.1093/nop/npy026

  3. Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network. Symptoms and causes ependymoma.

  4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Syringomyelia fact sheet.

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  6. Yust Katz S, Cachia D, Kamiya-Matsuoka C, et al. Ependymomas arising outside of the central nervous system: A case series and literature reviewJ Clin Neurosci. 2018;47:202-207. doi:10.1016/j.jocn.2017.10.026

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By Sarah Jividen, RN
Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a freelance healthcare journalist and content marketing writer at Health Writing Solutions, LLC. She has over a decade of direct patient care experience working as a registered nurse specializing in neurotrauma, stroke, and the emergency room.