After people have survived major accidents that may have damaged their brains, they must then undergo a highly-detailed set of tests and procedures so their condition can be properly diagnosed. During this process, patients may need to be evaluated by one or more of the following: physicians, neuropsychologists, psychiatrists and neurosurgeons.
What makes this type of diagnosis so difficult is that even when all the most sophisticated tests currently available indicate that you do not have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) – you may be suffering from one. Furthermore, you may not know the full extent of your losses until your condition greatly worsens.
When trying to evaluate a potential TBI patient, doctors often look for some common symptoms. These are listed below, followed by a description of many of the diagnostic tests or exams administered to help determine of a person currently suffers from an easily documented TBI or other closed hear injury.
Frequently Seen Closed Head and Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms
- Cognitive or thinking impairments
- Significant changes in personality or behavior
- Inability to concentrate easily
- Difficulty accurately perceiving facts and circumstances
- Bad headaches – many of them will not go away quickly
- Problems with speech and basic articulation
- Sleep problems
- Vision changes that often include blurred vision
- Memory problems
- Inability to handle basic problem-solving tasks
As your various doctors and other healthcare providers will tell you, it’s crucial to your long-term health to report any of these problems as soon as you become aware of them. Hopefully, family and friends may point them out to you – or your doctors will discern them based on tests results and interacting with you.
Keep in mind that you must try to spend time around other people who care about you after enduring most significant head injuries because new complications can suddenly appear – often when you may just think you’re getting a bit sleepy or simply feeling odd. Should you be alone and no symptoms on the list above appear – or even others not noted there – you must contact your doctor or return to the nearest emergency room right away.
Common Tests or Exams Run to Help Physicians Diagnosed Serious Head Injuries
The most common tests you may be asked to undergo include: X-rays, EEGs, CTs or CAT Scans, and one or more MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tests. These tests are further described below, following by a second list of additional tests or exams often used.
- X-rays: These are basically pictures taken by a very sophisticated camera or machine to get an accurate view of the bones in your head (or other parts of the body). Once the fully developed film or pictures are produced, your doctors can review them, looking for specific signs of various conditions or changes. In some cases, X-rays are also used to help medical workers determine if they are properly inserting feeding tubes or other devices in the body during your treatment or recovery;
- EEGs (Electroencephalograms): This test involves placing small metal discs known as electrodes to your scalp, so that your brain waves can be recorded on paper and then evaluated by your doctors. It is most often run to detect seizure activity or other abnormal brain activity;
- CTs or CAT Scans (Computed Tomography Scans): This imaging test helps your doctors determine if you are currently experience any internal bleeding in your brain – or if you have developed blood clots, swelling or other brain abnormalities. A CAT Scan is also useful for carefully examining the various structures within the brain – while also indicating any fractures or other problems in the facial bones or skull;
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): This test produces some of the most detailed and sophisticated views of various brain structures. For example, a doctor might want to use this test if she suspects you have damaged your brain stem or cerebellum, based on your current symptoms.
While these are the more common tests run after someone endures a suspected closed head or traumatic brain injury – they are often given in conjunction with other tests.
Additional Tests Often Given to Head Injury Patients
- Arterial blood gas measurements: These are most commonly run to examine your overall lung functions – and your “acid/base” balance. You’ll often hear your doctor mention running these if you are experiencing breathing problems – or if you’re known to be suffering from asthma, chronic pulmonary disease (COPD) – or even some type of electrolyte imbalance. An MRI can also help doctors determine specific problems you’re battling due to kidney or heart failure, a drug overdose, deadly infections – or complications with your diabetes;
- Electrolyte balance exams: Commonly run in emergency rooms, this test helps doctors look at the degree of trouble you may be having with your heart, lungs, or kidneys. It’s always critical for any patient who may have just suffered a serious closed head or traumatic brain injury to have their electrolytes balanced as quickly as possible since the brain is one of the first organs that can be seriously affected if this isn’t immediately addressed. Patients suffering from any form of dehydration also need to have this test run;
- A neurological exam: There are many specific types of neurological tests that may be run. They are usually conducted to see how well your central nervous system is functioning, how well you’re mentally functioning and if you’re able to be fully cooperative – and if your motor activity, coordination, and various reflexes are intact;
- A SPECT scan: This acronym stands for “single-photon emission computerized tomography.” This nuclear imaging tests lets your doctor gain an in-depth idea of how well your various organs are working. It involves the use of a radioactive substance and its 3-D camera produces highly-specialized pictures;
- A Glasgow Coma Scale: When your doctor runs this test, he is trying to determine the basic severity of your head injury – more specifically – your level of consciousness. You’ll be asked to try and respond to commands asking you to move your eyes and various limbs. The person conducting the test will also be evaluating your verbal responses to various questions;
- The Rancho Los Amigos Scale: If this test is administered to you, the doctors will be trying to look at how well you can hopefully progress while responding to simple questions or commands. You’ll be asked to open and shut your eyes in specific ways and to move your body in certain ways. Doctors also look to see how frustrated or cooperative you’re acting – since agitated patients may be suffering deeply from specific brain deficits. Efforts will also be made to determine how much pain you’re currently enduring and if you seem confused regarding your current condition.