Because closed head injuries may not be outwardly invisible, and may not produce symptoms until days or weeks after the injury, diagnosing TBI has been problematic for physicians. Studies have shown that patients with few or no symptoms may show up with difficulties weeks or years after the injury.
Brain Scans for Detecting TBI
There are currently five basic types of scans used to examine the human brain. CAT or CT scans and MRIs help doctors visualize the structure of the brain, while EEGs, SPECT scans and PET scans help them see the brain’s functioning.
CT and MRI
CT scans are very good at detecting fresh bleeding in and around the brain. A CT scan may be repeated at the ER to determine if the bleeding is worsening. An MRI works better for detecting older injuries because the scans show more detail and may see minute traces of old blood. The MRI is also good at detecting myelin degeneration and cerebral atrophy, both normal signs of aging, but also potential signs of TBI.
Advanced Diagnostic Technology
A new type of MRI, Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) helps physicians see parts of the brain not visible through standard MRI technology. This software tracks the movement of water molecules, showing parallel movement in healthy untorn white matter or perpendicular movement in the case of damage white matter.
Another interesting offshoot of the MRI, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), can detect the balance of brain metabolites to show the presence of injury. An injured brain has a predictable chemical signature. MRS allows doctors to see these changes without a lumbar puncture to examine cerebrospinal fluid.
SPECT scans have recently shown their adeptness at detecting brain injuries. Recent studies where a CT and MRI showed no injury demonstrated abnormal SPECT scans. This suggests that SPECT may be a more definitive tool for detecting TBI.
An injured brain cuts off the blood supply to damaged tissues. By allowing doctors to visualize areas of the brain where the blood supply is reduced, SPECT shows the location of injury. Because these scans use radioactive chemicals to detect blood flow, they may not be recommended for individuals of childbearing age.
The Future of TBI Diagnostics
Most research in the field of diagnosing TBI lies in the area of biomarkers. These are biological indicators of brain injury found in the blood. Researchers are looking for the presence of particular biochemical changes in the blood that may show TBI in the early stages of injury. Because even mild TBI initiates a host of biochemical events, changes should be detectable in the blood. So far, researchers have not been able to uncover reliable or definitive biomarkers for TBI.
Until better diagnostics are available, victims of TBI will continue to have unpredictable and more severe consequences from their injuries. If you or someone you love suffers from TBI because of another’s negligence, contact our office for a free consultation. We will help you learn your rights and options in securing compensation for the injury.