Researchers Seek Better Ways to Diagnose Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries

Medical research teams at St. Louis and Washington Universities are trying to identify a way to easily diagnose mild traumatic brain injury—TBI—an injury similar to concussion. The focus of their investigation is predominantly on soldiers and veterans who have sustained concussive blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but their findings undoubtedly will have strong implications for civilians who suffer from TBI as well. In Missouri alone, more than 14,000 people seek treatment for TBI each year; 1,300 die from its devastating effects

Diagnosing a Challenge

Diagnosing a concussion or mild TBI can be extremely challenging since traumatic brain injury does not always show up on traditional CT or MRI scans. Instead, physicians must rely on a combination of other tools, including neurocognitive and neuropsychological testing, to determine if there are deficits in a patient’s level of cognitive functioning. Such testing typically consists of questions and exercises designed to assess memory and recall, conceptual capacity, thought/idea association, thought process and behavior. Different tests correspond to different areas, pathways and cortical networks in the brain; hence, a low score on one or more of these tests could suggest a reduction or impairment in brain function.

However, neurocognitive testing is at best an imperfect diagnostic tool as one young veteran suffering from memory impairment discovered when he was recently tested for TBI:

It’s not realistic…they sit me in a quiet room with one person and that’s all I have to focus on. You let my two-year old in the room, and I don’t know what’s going on.

Researchers studying the problem agree that accurate diagnosis and treatment for TBI remains a vexing problem, and not just because of the reliability and validity of testing methodologies. There are wide variances in standard of care from one hospital to the next.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a polycenter, you’re good to go,” observed Jason Hansman, program manager for health programs of a nonprofit organization for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “If you are not, your standard of care is not as high.”

Symptoms of TBI

Symptoms of a brain injury may include:

  • Confusion, Disorientation and Poor Recall
  • Headaches
  • Inability to acquire, process and store new information
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Behavioral and emotional changes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurry vision
  • Trouble speaking and articulating
  • Changes in sleeping pattern
  • Dizziness

The extent and magnitude of these symptoms are apt to vary based on severity of the brain injury, but any one of these signs is reason for concern and demands the need for immediate medical attention and treatment to prevent the potential for further brain damage.

Improved Technology Holds Promise

Researchers hope that advances in MRI technology, resulting in more sensitive brain scans, will eventually allow researchers to closely examine microscopic tears and disruptions in nerve track fibers found in the neural pathways of the brain’s white matter. Improved capacity to see otherwise invisible injuries holds the promise of someday being able to better diagnose TBI while providing patients with persistent and global complaints that they are, in fact, suffering from a real and very serious injury.

TBI, even when it has been diagnosed as “mild”, is a debilitating and potentially long-lasting or even permanent injury. Furthermore, certain forms of TBI can increase the risk for developing dementia in later years.  If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, make sure that you choose a top trial lawyer experienced in TBI. Call TBI Lawyer, Chris Dixon, to schedule an appointment for a free consultation to discuss your legal options at 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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