Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis


Almost everyone has suffered some sort of cut, scrape, or bruise at some point in their life. Individuals might have even broken a bone. Typically, people make a full recovery following these injuries; however, some traumatic accidents could lead to permanent complications. This is the case for people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

A TBI can cause life-long complications and require extensive medical treatments. If you or a loved one has suffered serious head trauma in an accident due to another person's carelessness, you may be able to pursue compensation for your injuries and damages. Call our injury lawyer at (415) 805-7284 for a free consultation.

In this article:

What is a Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the term used to describe a blow to the head that leads to either a temporary or permanent change in the function of the brain. Because the brain consists of a network of neurons, damage done to these neurons is typically permanent. It is easy to see how this can lead to serious quality of life issues for a family. Furthermore, TBIs are more common than many people realize. According to statistics on TBIs that have been published by the Brain Trauma Foundation:

  • Among children and adults between the ages of 1 and 44, traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of both death and disability.
  • The age group that is most commonly affected by TBIs is the elderly, who are at high risk of suffering traumatic falls.
  • Every year, TBIs impact more than 2.5 million people.
  • Of these individuals, about 50,000 people will die as a result of their head injury.
  • Another 80,000 people will develop permanent complications and disabilities.
  • The most common reasons why people suffer a traumatic brain injury are slip and fall accidents, motor vehicle collisions, and being struck by an object.

Traumatic brain injuries are a serious issue that impacts millions of individuals and their families every year. Since the complications of traumatic brain injuries are often permanent, it is essential to try and diagnose these injuries as quickly as possible. The faster the injury can be diagnosed, the quicker it can be treated. This translates into time saved and brain tissue preserved.

Diagnosis of a Brain Injury

The first step in diagnosing a brain injury is to figure out the mechanism of the accident. When someone arrives at the doctor's office, hospital, or emergency department, the doctor is going to ask questions to determine the likelihood that a brain injury happened. Some of the questions that the doctor might ask include:

  • When did the accident happen?
  • Where did the incident occur?
  • Can you describe to me what you remember about the accident?
  • What kind of pains or symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Do you know your name?
  • Do you know where you are?
  • What are the date and time?
  • Has anything like this happened before?

The importance of these questions is to figure out exactly what the mechanism of the accident was, where the impact took place, and what type of symptoms the individual is experiencing. Some of the most common mechanisms of traumatic brain injuries include:

  • Car accidents: Without a doubt, one of the most common mechanisms of TBIs is a motor vehicle collision. In a severe car accident, people can strike their head on the dashboard, the steering wheel, the door, or window. This can lead to a skull fracture and a TBI.
  • Slip and Fall: A slip and fall is often benign for a child; however, this can be devastating for older adults. Furthermore, if the fall comes from a great height, this can lead to a TBI even in the healthiest of people. When individuals slip and fall, they are prone to striking their head on the ground. This can lead to a brain bleed, which is one common type of TBI. These injuries can also be fatal.
  • Struck by an Object: Another common cause of a traumatic brain injury, an individual who is hit on the head with an object is prone to developing a traumatic brain injury. Depending on the location of the impact, the type of the TBI can vary. In order to decipher exactly what kind of TBI is present, it is important to accurately describe the timing and severity of the symptoms.
Symptoms of a TBI

After the physician has taken a detailed history of the accident and the injury, the next step is to describe the symptoms that might be present. The timing and severity of the symptoms help the doctor decide what type of TBI might be present and what he or she is going to do next. Some of the most common symptoms of TBIs include:

  • A headache: Without a doubt, headaches are some of the most common symptoms of TBIs. The headaches vary in their location and severity. A headache described as the "worst of my life" is often worrisome for a brain bleed.
  • Loss of Consciousness: While not every traumatic brain injury will result in a loss of consciousness, this is a concerning symptom. It indicates that the impact was so severe that the brain has had its normal rhythm disrupted. Sometimes, the loss of consciousness does not occur with the impact but happens a few minutes or hours later.
  • Vision and Hearing Difficulties: Depending on the location of the TBI, an individual could have trouble with their hearing or vision. Any problems with these senses can help the doctor localize the brain injury inside of the skull.
  • Memory Loss: Individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury might have trouble remembering exactly what happened. They could also have difficulty forming new memories.

These are only a few of the many different symptoms that could accompany a TBI. Importantly, some people may have one, a few, or all of the symptoms above. Every sign is vital in helping the doctor arrive at the proper diagnosis.

Using Imaging to Help the Diagnosis

Once the doctor has taken a complete history and performed a physical examination, the next step is the imaging. Not everyone who has suffered a blow to the head will need imaging of their head; however, if the mechanism and symptoms are concerning for a traumatic brain injury, imaging needs to be performed. The goal of imaging is to help the doctor figure out where in the head the injury took place and to grade its severity. There are two common types of imagery that are used in the diagnosis of a TBI. These are:

  • Computed Tomography: A computed tomography scan, often abbreviated CT scan, is usually the first imaging procedure performed. People can think of a CT scan like an x-ray in three dimensions. This scan takes only a few seconds and produces a 3D image of the brain. This scan uses radiation to create an image based on the density of the material through which it is passing. Light materials, such as air, appear black on the image. Heavy materials, such as bone, appear white. This scan is great at identifying fractures and bleeds; however, it is not great for looking at the structure of the brain tissue itself.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Magnetic Resonance Imaging, shortened to MRI, is typically the second scan performed. Not everyone will receive an MRI scan; however, if after the CT scan, the doctor needs more information, an MRI could be ordered. This scan does not use radiation and produces a more detailed image, but it also takes much longer to perform. It is great at looking at the brain tissue itself and could even show an old TBI if one occurred. This machine uses strong magnets to produce its image, so anyone who has metal inside of the body (such as knee replacements, implants, or tattoos) should inform their doctor. They might not be able to receive this scan. Once the imaging has been completed, the doctor will make a diagnosis.
Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries

While all traumatic brain injuries are serious, there are lots of different types that need to be considered. Every type of head injury is different with varying levels of severity. Therefore, it is important to understand a few of the most common types, what they imply, and how they are treated. Some of the most common types of TBIs include:

  • Concussion: A concussion occurs when a blow to the head leads to a transient alteration in the function of the brain. While a single concussion is unlikely to lead to any long-term issues, recurrent concussions could lead to long-term disability. One recent study showed that more than 10 percent of concussions are repeat events. Therefore, all concussions must be taken seriously.
  • Cerebral Contusion: A cerebral contusion is a bruise to the brain tissue itself. This is often visualized on imaging. Depending on the severity of the bruise, it could cause severe symptoms that persist for weeks, months, or even years.
  • Brain Bleeds: This is one of the most serious types of traumatic brain injuries. A brain bleed occurs when one or more of the blood vessels in the brain is ruptured. Some of the most common types of brain bleeds are epidural hematomas, subdural hematomas, and subarachnoid hemorrhage. One study showed that as many as 80 percent of epidural hematomas occur due to accidental injury. If not caught early, brain bleeds could be fatal.

Ultimately, some TBIs may not have any long-term consequences while others could be fatal. Some TBIs could even lead to lifelong consequences. It is easy to see how this can place a family under a tremendous amount of stress.

Watch YouTube Video: Different Types of Critical Traumatic Brain Injuries. This animated video demonstrates the different types of traumatic brain injuries in patients ranging from 18 months of age to adults.

Contacting a Brain Injury Lawyer

When an individual has sustained a serious head injury, there are lots of questions that come up. Importantly, traumatic brain injuries impact not only the individual but also their family and friends. Therefore, it is normal to have questions and concerns. Some of the common issues include the circumstances surrounding the injury and the quality of life issues that often result. In these situations, meeting with a San Francisco traumatic brain injury attorney can be helpful. Some of the ways that an experienced injury lawyer can help include:

  • Reviewing the records of the accident to make sure that all of the details have been addressed.
  • Making sure that the fault has been assigned appropriately following an accident.
  • Helping families seek damages that might be related to their injuries, their pain, and their suffering
  • Acting as an objective presence to help families make decisions during a difficult time.
  • Taking a case to court, if needed.

It is understandable for families to have questions following a traumatic brain injury. Everyone should remember that help is available and that they are not alone. For this reason, take a few minutes to speak with a traumatic brain injury attorney in San Francisco today. You and your family could be deserving of a financial reward.

Traumatic Brain Injury Lawyers in San Francisco
I’m Ed Smith, a San Francisco traumatic brain injury lawyer. If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident, please reach out to me at (415) 805-7284 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.

We are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

See our client ratings on AvvoGoogle, and Yelp, and our past cases on our Verdicts and Settlements page.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 2.11.21]

Attribution of Image:

:dr 0p cha ds [cs 2001]

Client Reviews
"Me and my wife; had a car accident. We were amazed how easy, professional, friendly attorney Ed Smith is along with his staff. Everybody is amazing. Thank you so much, we are very impressed!" Alex & Dinah M.
"Ed Smith and his office team took on a difficult personal injury case on my behalf and for the passenger in my car. Ed is a top- notch attorney. His staff couldn't have been more helpful and kind. No need to look elsewhere. I give Ed Smith my highest recommendation." Beverly
"Ed and Robert have been taking great care of my husband and I for the past 5+ years. They are always there when you have a problem and a quick resolution! Even when the issues have nothing to do with them. They are willing to help ease the pain off your shoulders. They are as good as it gets! Thank you again for everything." Annie T.
"Very professional. Great team, staff and service all around. Mr Smith was very honest, straight forward with his advice. He gives the word "attorney" an honest reputation. I will seek his council anytime, and would recommend him at the drop of a dime." Jeremy M.
"I would highly recommend Ed Smith to any friends or family in need of a personal injury attorney. Ed, and his staff, are very caring on top of being very experienced in this field. The staff always keeps you informed of the status of your case and they are always easy to reach by phone." Shannon D.
"Edward Smith law offices provide competent, thorough, and personable help for victims of personal injury. When you first meet the staff you know you contacted the right office. This law office treats clients like people. I recommend this office to anyone seeking representation regarding personal injury." David M.