A traumatic brain injury occurs due to a forceful impact to, or penetration of, the brain. Because the brain is both a vital and extremely complex organ, traumatic brain injuries can be severe, with effects that can last a lifetime. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis of brain injuries is common, especially if health care providers rely too much on imaging techniques, such as MRI or CT. These diagnostics are often not able to detect the signs of damage to the brain.

Therefore, a doctor or an emergency medical technician should perform diagnostic tests in addition to imaging to either confirm or rule out TBI. These tests often include assessing a patient’s neurologic functions. The following are a few examples of the assessments a health care provider may use to evaluate for traumatic brain injury.

Glasgow coma scale

The GCS assesses a person’s consciousness and level of functioning. A doctor gauges the person’s ability to move, open eyes and/or speak in response to stimuli. The closer the responses are to normal, the higher the score will be. Lower Glasgow coma scores indicate a more severe traumatic brain injury.

Intracranial pressure monitoring

A TBI can sometimes cause the brain to swell. This puts pressure on the organ that can lead to additional damage. Intracranial pressure may require a drain or a shunt to reduce the swelling. To monitor the pressure inside the skull, a physician may insert a probe to measure it.

Neuropsychological assessments

A traumatic brain injury can affect a person’s cognition, i.e., the ability to think. Neuropsychological assessments evaluate a patient’s cognition at both basic and advanced levels by measuring the patient’s ability to perform certain tasks.

Memory loss

Memory loss is common after a TBI. It can be either temporary or permanent. The duration of memory loss, along with loss of consciousness and GCS score, is sometimes used to assess the severity of a traumatic brain injury. In a mild TBI, memory loss endures for less than 24 hours, but in a severe TBI, it lasts more than seven days.