Can you see a concussion on a CT scan or a brain MRI? The answer is no.
I cannot tell you how many normal or negative brain MRIs and CT scans I’ve seen where my clients had in fact suffered concussions. Almost always, imaging is normal.
What MRIs and CT scans can (and cannot) do
MRIs and CT scans are intended to rule out severe trauma like a fractured skull or significant swelling or massive bleeding. Those things would be life threatening and require immediate surgery. Concussions don’t show up on MRIs or CT scans.
MRIs and CT scans show the physical anatomy of your brain, but not how your brain functions. A concussed brain doesn’t bleed so you don’t see any injuries. A concussion doesn’t change the appearance of the brain; it just changes the function.
How is a concussion diagnosed?
If a concussion can’t be diagnosed with an MRI or a CT scan, then how is it diagnosed? Well, it’s diagnosed through symptoms. I’m going to run through some of the symptoms here.
Immediate symptoms that may be seen by other people observing the person who is injured include the following: loss of consciousness, disorientation, confusion, slurred speech, difficulty paying attention, delayed verbal or motor responses, staring off, excessive emotionality out of proportion with the circumstance, and memory deficits.
The person who suffered the injury may experience headaches, dizziness, confusion, ringing in the ears, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting or visual changes. It should also be noted that a brain injury, a concussion, is something that continues to develop. It’s not like a broken arm where the fracture just happens. A brain injury develops over time and can get worse.
Delayed symptoms may include memory disturbances, poor attention, concentration problems, irritability, and sleep disturbances – that’s a big one that I see a lot. They also include personality changes such as becoming easily frustrated or more tearful.
Fatigue is also another major symptom, as is a persistent low-grade headache that just won’t go away. In many patients, brain MRIs and brain CT scans do not show concussions. Instead, concussions are diagnosed by symptoms and by observation.
If you have any questions about this, give us a call at 303-688-0944.