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Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild to severe. In some cases, brain injuries are life-threatening. Brain injuries may be evident in some situations. But subtle signs of brain injuries may not always be identified in a timely manner. Whether a traumatic brain injury is minor or severe, it is essential a proper diagnosis is made so treatment can be implemented.
Types of Brain Injuries
Mild brain injuries are also sometimes referred to as a concussion. A mild blow to the head can cause a concussion.
Symptoms may include dizziness, nausea and confusion. Although a loss of consciousness is possible, it is usually brief.
A diagnosis of a minor brain injury, such as a concussion, is usually made based on symptoms and a CT scan, which is used to rule out more serious injuries. Treatment is often not needed. If a headache is present, over the counter medication is usually enough to take the pain away.
When more serious or extensive damage to the brain occurs, the injury is considered a severe head or brain injury. Injuries to the brain can have a variety of causes, such as trauma to the head from a fall, accident and assault. Symptoms can vary and may include an altered level of consciousness, nausea and vomiting. Seizures may also occur.
The most severe brain injuries can result in brain death. The term brain death is often misunderstood by the public. Brain death refers to a loss of all brain activity. Basic functions, such as breathing, blood pressure control and body temperature regulation are impaired.
Diagnosing Brain Injuries
Brain injuries are diagnosed based on an exam, symptom review and through various diagnostic tests. A physical exam will be performed to test how alert a person is. Strength and reflexes will also be evaluated. The pupils will be examined to determine if they are reacting to light normally.
In addition to an exam, medical tests may be ordered to help make a diagnosis. A CT scan is one of the most common tests performed and can identify bleeding in the brain and areas of swelling. Although a skull x-ray may be ordered, it will usually not be used to diagnose a brain injury since more sophisticated diagnostic tests are available.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another type of test, which may be done to determine the presence or extent of a head injury. An MRI is also used to create images of the brain. Areas of swelling and bleeding can be identified.
An electroencephalography (EEG) will not be the first test administered when a person has a brain injury, but it still has a diagnostic role.
The extent of the injury may be identified. But those tests do not measure the level of electrical activity in the brain. That is where an EEG comes in.
An EEG measures electrical signals in the brain. It is used to determine a person’s level of consciousness. For example, a person who is in a coma will have decreased electrical activity in the brain.