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How Healthcare Providers Diagnose Traumatic Brain Injury

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2021 | Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) range from mild to severe, with the most severe resulting in life-long disability or death. And TBIs affect more people in America each year than you might think. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2014, there were 2.87 million visits to emergency rooms, hospitalizations, and deaths from TBIs. The CDC further reports that from 2006 to 2014, the incidence of TBIs rose a whopping 53%. So if you are the victim of an accident that caused a traumatic brain injury, you are not alone. And if the incident that caused your TBI was due to someone else’s negligence, the experienced personal injury legal team at Batson Nolan PLC may be able to help get you compensation for the pain you’ve endured.

But after an accident, how do you know if you have a TBI? Healthcare providers don’t have one single method of diagnosis. Instead, they use a variety of methods to diagnose and assess the severity of head injuries.

You Can Help

If you witness an accident that hurts someone, you can help. First, never move an injured person until medical help arrives. And as you wait for assistance, you can run through the following questions in your mind. If you can answer some of these, you may help medical personnel respond better to the emergency. Or if the victim is still conscious and is able to speak with you, asking them the following questions may help.

  • What happened?
  • How did the injury occur?
  • What part of the head specifically received a blow?
  • Aside from the head, were any other parts of the body struck?
  • Was the force of the blow mild, moderate, or severe?
  • Did the victim pass out or become unconscious at any point?
  • If so, how long were they unconscious?
  • Did you observe any changes in speech?
  • Did you see changes in alertness or coordination after the injury?
  • Was the victim’s body thrown about or jarred?

Answers to these questions can positively influence how medical personnel handles the injury.

Methods Used to Diagnose Traumatic Brain Injury

There are a variety of methods doctors use to diagnose traumatic brain injuries. Methods vary according to the injury’s severity and the resources available. In other words, an emergency medical technician uses different assessment techniques than a treating doctor in a fully staffed hospital. TBIs are tricky. They can be mild or severe, but even mild injuries can worsen quickly if not closely monitored.  So let’s take a look at some common methods healthcare personnel use when assessing a patient’s head injury.

Glasgow Coma Scale

Physicians usually start with the 15-point Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) test to assess the potential severity of the brain injury. In this test, higher assessment numbers represent less severe injuries and vice versa. A doctor evaluates the patient’s consciousness level, ability to respond to stimuli, and ability to obey verbal commands. The healthcare provider examines three key factors. They assess whether or not the patient:

  • Can speak coherently;
  • Can open their eyes upon request and of their own volition; and
  • Can move freely.

They assess these factors at multiple levels. For example, when evaluating speech, a doctor assesses multiple factors. Can the patient speak at all? Do their words make sense? Do they make sense initially but then seem to drift off while their speech descends into gibberish? Or can they hold an actual conversation? When assessing the eyes, a doctor will ask if they open their eyes regularly or only in response to a direct request. When assessing movement, they may ask, Does the patient move their legs and arms freely? Can they move in response to pain or stimulation?

The physician scores each factor on the previously mentioned 15-point scale. This test assesses the severity of the TBI and helps the physician decide what treatment plan is best. Additionally, healthcare providers use this test as treatment progresses to measure improvement and progress.

Imaging Tests

Two frequently used imaging tests can help doctors diagnose traumatic brain injuries. One of the first tests typically used in an emergency setting is the computerized tomography scan. The common name for this test is a CT or CAT scan. This scan takes a series of X-rays from multiple angles. It can readily expose:

  • Bleeding on the brain (hemorrhages),
  • Bruising of the brain (contusions),
  • Blood clots (hematomas),
  • Skull fractures, and
  • Brain swelling.

Any of these issues can indicate a TBI and help the doctors know what to do next.

A treating physician usually uses a CT to provide an initial assessment of the injury quickly. If the patient doesn’t stabilize or improve, doctors typically turn to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This is a longer procedure that uses magnets and radio waves to create a more detailed brain image.

Other Devices

If CT and MRI scans don’t provide a full picture, a few other medical devices can help discover more about a TBI. For instance, some doctors use an EEG or electroencephalography test to measure electrical activity in the brain. If swelling in the brain is an issue, the doctor can use an intracranial pressure monitor to track what is happening. And lastly, if something penetrated the brain, a provider can take a closer look at blood vessel damage through x-rays of blood or lymph vessels called angiography.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help

Traumatic brain injuries can happen to anyone, at any age. They can result from a stunningly wide variety of accidents and mishaps, from car accidents to getting tackled too hard at a football game. The experienced personal injury legal team at Batson Nolan PLC has handled many cases involving traumatic brain injuries. We know how to assess the facts of your case and determine if someone else’s negligence or intentional misconduct caused your pain. If so, we know how to proceed to ensure that your legal rights are protected. Your injury has caused you and those who love you both emotional and physical pain. You have likely accumulated medical bills due to your injury, and you may have even lost time at work or lost your job entirely. Allow us to help you get the compensation for these losses that you deserve. Call us today, or contact us online to set up a free consultation in our office.