Why Would the Emergency Room Diagnose Concussion Without a CT Scan or MRI?

A mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or commonly known as concussion is a clinical diagnosis; there is no single test to definitively confirm the diagnosis of concussion. Doctors assess the history of the patient’s injury, the patient’s symptoms, and perform a physical examination. In the vast majority of mTBI cases, a CT scan finds no abnormality or visible signs of injury. Even the most sensitive CT scanners are not able to detect the changes that occur deep within the brain following a concussion. Also, CT scans are expensive, not always practical, or possible, and expose patients to radiation (which can elevate cancer risks).  For these reasons, a CT scan is not routinely performed during a concussion assessment. An ER physician may order a CT scan of the brain however, to rule out a brain bleed or a skull fracture that may need emergency surgery as sometimes seen with a direct blow to the head. But otherwise, a CT scan is unnecessary for many people and avoided if possible.

Like CT scans, a traditional MRI will not detect the subtleties of a concussion in the ER. A traditional MRI can detect large structural damage of the brain in more severe head injuries but are often not helpful in making the initial diagnosis of concussion. MRIs are expensive (costing twice as much as a CT scan) and can take up to two hours to complete making them an impractical diagnostic tool for a suspected concussion in the ER. MRIs are more often used to rule something out like a brain breed or brain swelling. Health care providers may use newer, more specialized MRIs or a functional MRI weeks or months after the initial concussion diagnosis to evaluate how well the brain is functioning in patients with ongoing symptoms. Commonly brain damage occurs over time following the initial injury. MRI is used after the passage of time to see if the damage has become extensive enough to be detected by MRI, following progression of the damage to neurons and surrounding tissues.

If you or your loved one has suffered a brain injury following a Florida accident you should speak with our legal expert on brain injuries, attorney Jim Dodson. He has over 25 years experience successfully representing brain injury victims and can answer all your questions. Give us a call at 888-815-6398 to schedule a time to discuss your accident case. There is never a fee for a consultation.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.