Do CT Scans show Concussions?

If you've suffered a head injury, it's important to see a medical professional quickly so you can get a diagnosis and seek the treatment you need. One of the most common types of head injuries is a concussion, usually caused by hitting or violently shaking the head. This condition can cause unconsciousness, headache, dizziness, inability to concentrate, memory loss, confusion, nausea, and blurry vision.

There are many imaging technologies that medical professionals use to diagnose head injuries, although not all are suitable for concussions. In this article, we explore computerized tomography (CT) scans and explain why they aren't the right option when diagnosing a concussion. We'll also explain what you can do if you think you have suffered a concussion.

What Is a CT Scan?

CT scans are common diagnostic imaging tools used by medical professionals in many specialties. These scans allow doctors to see inside the body in a non-invasive way and can help diagnose injuries and some illnesses. CT scans are a development of X-ray technology that provides several improvements. Like X-rays, CT scans use ionizing radiation, but they provide a much more detailed view, especially of soft tissues, muscles, and blood vessels.

While X-rays generally use a single beam of radiation from one angle, CT scans are able to capture images from a range of angles. If you go in for a CT scan, you will lie down on a bed while the scanner moves around part of your body in a circular motion. It will capture images from a variety of angles and assemble them into a 360-degree image of the body part in question. This method provides superior detail and visibility to doctors for diagnostic purposes.

Do CT Scans Show Concussions?

Despite their strengths, CT scans are not ideal for diagnosing concussions and only catch brain abnormalities in a small number of cases. This is because concussions generally cause functional rather than structural damage. For example, you may suffer memory loss and confusion after a concussion, but your brain may not show any visible injuries.

Despite this, some doctors may recommend a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if a patient suffers a head injury. Although it probably won't help diagnose a concussion, it can show if you are suffering from more serious injuries such as a skull fracture or cerebral bleeding. If a patient is experiencing extreme symptoms like loss of consciousness, seizures, vomiting, or blood in the ears or nose, it may be a sign of hemorrhage or fracture, and they should get a CT scan. This allows doctors to surgically intervene if required.

What Does a CT Scan Show?

While CT scans aren't a great option for diagnosing concussions, they have many other uses. Unlike X-rays, CT scans can capture high-quality images of both high- and low-density structures, including bones, cartilage, organs, tissues, and blood vessels. High-density structures show up as white, low-density structures appear gray, and empty spaces remain black. These are some of the conditions that CT scans can show:

  • Tumors.
  • Blood clots.
  • Bone fractures.
  • Injury to internal organs.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Liver masses.
  • Heart disease.
  • Lung disorders.

In addition to diagnosing these issues, CT scans can also be used to guide medical procedures and monitor the effects of treatments like chemotherapy.

How Are Concussions Diagnosed?

If you suffer a concussion or suspect you might have, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. When you go to the ER, medical professionals will make sure that you get the care you need to prevent further cerebral and musculoskeletal damage. This may include stabilizing the head and neck and preventing sleep. Once you're stable, doctors will check for different symptoms, including examining your pupils and vision, measuring your strength, sensation, and reflexes, and analyzing your coordination. These tests are designed to gauge the health of your nervous system.

Doctors will also use a range of cognitive tests to see whether you're suffering from a concussion. They may check your memory by asking what happened to you or asking you to recall basic information. Your medical provider may also look for physical damage like lacerations, bumps, bleeding, or spinal damage. Once these tests are complete, your physician will most likely know whether you've suffered a concussion or not. If they're still worried about serious trauma, they may order a CT or MRI scan to find bleeding or fractures.

After Diagnosis

Although most patients experience symptom relief within a week or two of their injury, some experience cognitive and neurological symptoms for months or years afterward. A long-term condition is usually caused by these caused by lingering injuries in the brain, usually called post-concussion syndrome (PCS). As in the case of concussions, it's impossible to diagnose PCS with a CT scan, although other imaging techniques are available.

One of the most effective methods for identifying PCS is functional MRI (fMRI). The advantage of fMRI is that it produces active images of the brain that reflect activity, such as oxygen levels and blood flow. Patients are asked to complete a series of tasks during the imaging process to stimulate certain activities in the brain. By comparing these images with normal brain activity, doctors can better understand what injuries their patients are dealing with and how to better address them.

As you can see, a CT scan isn't a good option if you want to diagnose a concussion. Fortunately, there are other options that your doctor can employ to analyze your injuries. At Grapevine Imaging, we have a team of experienced radiology professionals who can provide a wide variety of diagnostic services in the case you suffer a head injury.

If your physician refers you to us, we'll make every effort to schedule your appointment at a time that works for you. You can learn more about what to expect when you visit our patient page. If we're lucky enough to serve you, you can feel confident that we'll provide you with first-class service while treating you with empathy and respect.

Image by National Cancer Institute licensed by Unsplash License

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