Concussions can be diagnosed by a medical professional through neurological examination, cognitive testing, and imaging tests.
A neurological examination may assess your vision, hearing, balance, coordination, and reflexes.
A cognitive examination may assess your memory, concentration, and ability to recall information.
A brain imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI scan may also be performed.
Brain Imaging Tests
Brain imaging tests “may be recommended for some people with signs and symptoms such as severe headaches, seizures, repeated vomiting or symptoms that are becoming worse.”
In these cases, an imaging test called a computerized tomography (CT) scan is performed on the brain. A CT scan of the brain can be used to determine if there are serious “structural injuries such as brain bleeding, skull fracture and/or brain tissue damage."
CT scans of concussed patients typically do not show any abnormal findings. A research study examining neuroimaging for concussions states that the “majority of those with mild traumatic brain injury (concussion) exhibit no gross abnormalities” in CT scans. Another research study states that objective evidence of brain injury on a brain scan is “frequently not definitive in persons with mild traumatic brain injury (concussion).” This is because a concussion does not create noticeable changes in the brain that can be detected by a CT scan.
While a CT scan is not an appropriate tool for detecting a concussion, CT scans are still very important. When there is evidence of head trauma, CT scans allow medical professionals to evaluate the extent of the brain injury and determine if the head trauma has caused serious conditions such as a skull fracture or brain bleed.
However, most people who sustain concussions do not undergo CT imaging. Because CT scans expose patients to ionizing radiation, they are only used to evaluate patients who meet appropriate clinical criteria.