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MRIs May Be the Best Option for Detecting Brain Injuries After a Car Accident

Craig McClellan

A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has found that MRIs are capable of detecting mild traumatic brain injury signs even when CT scans do not show them.

Mild traumatic brain injury is often overlooked after a car accident. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes, an injured person will simply ignore a headache after an accident. Other times, a doctor may not order the proper tests to detect whether a brain injury has occurred. And now, the UCSF study shows that CT scans are not enough to detect a TBI.

The study followed 135 individuals who experienced brain injury symptoms. At first, they underwent CT scans. 73% of the patients did not show signs of injury. Yet, when patients underwent an MRI a week later, more than one quarter of those with a "normal" CT scan had focal lesions, which indicated a brain injury. Another study in the Journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics revealed that less than 10% of those with minor head injuries had a positive result after a CT scan.

The use of CT scanners is both costly and ineffective when it comes to identifying brain injuries. Some studies concluded that by lessening the use of CT scans on head injury victims by just 10%, hospitals could save upwards of $10 million. MRIs provide patients with more effective options on every level. It allows neurologists to treat patients rather than waste time looking for a problem with the wrong tools.

Use of MRIs for individuals with brain injury symptoms could prevent the problems we see today in treatment of brain injuries: Doctors release patients from the hospital too early, leading to permanent disability in some; the injury is repeated, causing serious brain damage over time; etc. By using MRIs, doctors could better monitor patients and identify those at-risk of long-term or permanent damage.


The issue of unresolved brain injury can endanger more than the patient. In January 2016, a state senator from Connecticut was driving down the wrong side of the road when he struck an SUV. The senator, Andrew Maynard, was already recovering from a prior concussion when he went out for a drive that resulted in a four-day hospital stay and yet another serious concussion.

While his colleagues report that he is more than fit for his duties as a senator, he has spent much of the last year recovering from a concussion he received in 2014 after falling down his staircase at home. While his concussion was quickly discovered, monitoring of his brain health might have been more effective with the right tools—and the extent of his injuries might have been more clear to doctors.

Studies indicate that MRIs are also more adept at identifying long-term brain injury over time. While CT scans are more sensitive to fresh blood and hemorrhaging after an injury, MRIs provide doctors with a clear look at how the injury is healing and progressing over time. For victims of car accidents who have undiagnosed memory issues, aphasia (inability to recall words), and other debilitating symptoms, MRIs might be the key to understanding and identifying the root of your issues.

Did You Suffer a TBI After a Car Accident?

Traumatic brain injuries, no matter how severe, can have lifelong-consequences. By understanding the full extent of a brain injury and the risks of permanent damage, those who suffer TBIs after car accidents can better evaluate the compensation they will need for treatment, monitoring (doctor's visits) and rehabilitation. This, in turn, translates to a better personal injury award.