What are the tests doctors use to diagnose traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

The most common test are: MRI, CT scans, PET scans, SPECT scan EEG, and lumbar puncture.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) beams high-frequency radio waves into the brain in a highly magnetized field that causes brain to reemit radio waves. Th radio waves are analyzed by computer to create thin cross-sectional images of the brain. MRI provides the most detailed images of the brain and is safer than imaging methods that use X rays. However, MRI so cannot be used with people who have pacemakers or metal implants. MRI is better at detecting the remnants of old hemorrhaged blood, called hemosiderin.


Computed tomography

Computed tomography, also known as CT scans (usually pronounced as “Cat Scans”). This imaging method X-rays the brain from many different angles, feeding the information into a computer that produces a series of cross-sectional images. CT is particularly useful for diagnosing blood clots and brain tumors. It is a much quicker process than magnetic resonance imaging and is therefore advantageous in certain situations—for example, with people who are extremely ill. The CAT scan is superior to the MRI in detecting fresh blood in and around the brain.

PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography)

PET Scan

PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography) uses computed tomography to visualize radioactive tracers, radioactive substances introduced into the brain intravenously or by inhalation. PET can measure such brain functions as cerebral metabolism, blood flow and volume, oxygen use, and the formation of neurotransmitters.

SPECT Scan (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography)


SPECT Scan (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) — SPECT scanning (single photon emission computed tomography) is similar to PET scanning in that a radioactive chemical is administered intravenously to the patient, but the radioactive chemical remains in the bloodstream and does not enter the brain. As a result, the SPECT scan maps the brain’s vascular supply. Because damaged brain tissue normally shuts down its own blood supply, focal vascular defects on a SPECT scan are circumstantial evidence of brain damage.

EEG (Electroencephalogram)

EEG (Electroencephalogram)

EEG (Electroencephalogram) – Monitors the brain’s electrical activity by means of wires attached to the patient’s scalp. These wires act like an antenna to record the brain’s electrical activity.

Lumbar Puncture

Lumbar Puncture

Lumbar Puncture – A lumbar puncture (also known as spinal tap) is used to analyze cerebrospinal fluid. An analysis of the fluid can help tell doctors, for example, if there is any bleeding in the brain and spinal cord areas.

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