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Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis

When a traumatic brain injury patient arrives at the hospital, the attending doctors' first priority is to stabilize the patient. This is accomplished by conducting a physical examination and making an initial diagnosis. Once the patient is stabilized, the doctors perform additional tests to further diagnose the patient's condition.

When factors such as a patient's vital signs, breathing patterns and visible external injuries indicate the possibility of a concussion or moderate to severe traumatic brain injury, doctors may attempt to assess brain damage by ordering X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. In addition to brain scans, doctors measure the extent of the brain damage with neurological evaluations, which include several simple questions that determine a patient's level of consciousness.

Two of the most commonly used scales to classify patients' levels of consciousness are the Glasgow Coma Scale and the Rancho Los Amigos Scale. The Glasgow Coma Scale is a 15-point scale that measures eye opening and verbal/motor responses, while the Rancho Los Amigos Scale categorizes patients into eight levels of consciousness.

Diagnosing the Type of Traumatic Brain Injury

Once doctors have completed physical and neurological evaluations, they are able to determine the extent of the traumatic brain injury and provide a diagnosis.

Mild brain injury. Many patients with mild traumatic brain injury do not exhibit symptoms until days or weeks after the incident. In some instances, mild symptoms such as headaches and insomnia may be overlooked by the patient. Patients with mild traumatic brain injury who seek medical attention are physically evaluated, given examinations to determine their level of consciousness and prescribed medication to alleviate any discomfort. Because most mild traumatic brain injuries heal without medical intervention, doctors typically do not recommend medical treatment other than regular check-ups to prevent complications.

Moderate to severe brain injury. Patients who sustain moderate to severe brain injuries may be unconscious or show severe physical and/or cognitive impairment. Symptoms of moderate to severe brain injury can include paralysis, problems with breathing, and coma or a similarly low level of consciousness.

Open and closed head injuries. An open head injury is easier to diagnose as, it is more apparent during physical examinations; doctors can immediately note a fractured skull or severe bleeding. A closed head injury, on the other hand, can be more difficult to identify and may require extensive physical and neurological examinations. Doctors use intracranial pressure monitors and brain scans, such as CTs and MRIs, to measure intracranial pressure and brain swelling.

After a traumatic brain injury is diagnosed, doctors immediately treat the injury to minimize complications and long-term consequences. To learn more about traumatic brain injury treatment and traumatic brain injury lawsuits, please refer to other articles on this site and contact a professional to address your specific medical or legal concerns.

[Last revision: October 2009]

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