How To Diagnose Mild TBI

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a medical condition that can affect one’s physical, neurological, and/ or emotional functioning and occurs as a result of experiencing a jolt or blow to one’s head. The specific symptoms that manifest as a result of a TBI will vary significantly, as they depend on the type of injury, the severity of the injury, as well as the area of the brain that was injured. For some, a TBI may only affect the exact location on the brain where the injury occurred, while for others a TBI could also affect surrounding tissues and cause damage to one’s brain in other areas apart from the initial site. Hence, some TBI symptoms may appear immediately and dissipate rather quickly, while others may present several days or weeks later, and some experienced symptoms may evolve over time. In order to understand how a mild TBI is diagnosed, it is first important to become aware of its definition.

Definition of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

A specialized committee that falls under the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) developed the following definition: a patient with mild traumatic brain injury is a person who has had a traumatically induced physiological disruption of brain function, as manifested by at least one of the following:

  1. Any period of loss of consciousness;
  2. Any loss of memory for events immediately before or after the accident;
  3. Any alteration in mental state at the time of the accident (e.g. feeling dazed, disoriented, or confused); and
  4. Focal neurological deficit(s) that may or many not be transient; but that the severity of the injury does not exceed the following:
    • Loss of consciousness of approximately 30 minutes or less;
    • After 30 minutes, an initial Glasgow Coma Scale (GCD) of 12-15; 
    • Posttraumatic amnesia (PTA) not greater than 24 hours.

Diagnostic Process

Diagnosing a mild TBI is notoriously known as a challenging feat for any providing medical professional due to the fact that the majority of individuals that experience a mild TBI are evaluated weeks or even months after the injury. The diagnostic process for a mild TBI begins with a thorough medical evaluation. This typically includes a neurological exam that evaluates one’s coordination, thinking, motor function, sensory function, eye movement, and reflexes. Although they cannot detect all TBIs, additional imaging tests such as computerize tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be conducted as a component of the diagnostic assessment. In conjunction with any medical tests, the evaluating medical professional will rely on the presence of certain symptoms (e.g. the coherence of the individual’s speech) when delineating the severity of his or her injury. 

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