What If Your MRI is "Clean" Post-Brain Injury?

An estimated 95 percent of people with TBI in the US leave the hospital with a clean CT or MRI scan. But what if symptoms continue to persist?

Downlaod a transcript of this video.

So, one of the challenges we have in the field is that it's estimated that more than 95 percent of all brain injuries in the U.S. have completely clean or normal CTs and MRIs that are done. This is a big challenge for families when they're looking for an answer because their child is not recovering from a concussion, maybe. I mean, in the severe injuries we're very good at characterizing damage, but those injuries only account for 5-10 percent of what we see overall. And when we're seeing more than 3 million a year, that's a large denominator to completely miss. So the role of imaging becomes much more research-generated rather than clinically oriented, and we are moving to try and make some of the technologies clinically applicable. So, for instance, at pretty much every major medical center in the U.S., we are using diffusion tensor imaging in our standard clinical imaging protocols now. So in terms of what do you do when your standard MRIs are negative? You keep pushing, because if your child is still developing symptoms, we still are not very good at really characterizing the damage that's been done. And you can always ask for an MRI. You can always ask to go see a TBI specialist. Seeing a family doctor is a great first step, but if you're continuing to have symptoms, it's really important to go see somebody who really understands the intricacies of TBI.
Posted on BrainLine May 25, 2010.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Brian King, BrainLine.

Comments (4)

I am so glad to hear someone like Deborah admit that they are "not very good" at this.
It is refreshing, but I don't agree that a parent should take a child to a family doctor.
If Deborah knows that neurosciencecand imagery is "not very good" then parents need to be prepared to meet up with outright woeful ignorance on the part of their primary physicians.
Don't even bother with them. Go to a hospital and DEMAND a neurologist !
Your child deserves better treatment than a physician who is incapable of saying "I don't know".

Unfortunately it was the neurologists that seemed to be woefully misinformed in my case. They looked at the clean MRI and said I’d be fine. 85% of brain injuries don’t show on an MRI! Seven years later I’m clearly still not fine.

Good luck demanding a neurological consult at your hospital, particularly if you use an HMO like Kaiser. You are more likely to end up on a long queue. Self-referrals do not get much respect. This is a situation where the intervention of a good family physician might make a real difference.

Too many communities don't have Neurologists, much less one that knows TBI. And referrals are not easy to find or get even if you are willing to travel several hundred miles.