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CAT Scans and Concussions

Doctors typically diagnose a concussion using a two-pronged approach. First, a doctor will review a patient’s medical history to determine whether something other than a concussion is wrong. Then, the doctor will assess the patient’s signs and symptoms.

The doctor, however, may use a CT (or CAT) scan or other diagnostic imaging device to further evaluate the patient.

In this blog, we explore the causes and symptoms of a concussion, why doctors use CT-scans after concussions, and how lawyers can help victims whether or not a scan reveals a brain injury. To learn more about your legal rights after suffering a concussion, contact an experienced traumatic brain injury lawyer for a free case evaluation.

Overview of Concussions and Their Causes

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that typically occurs when a person sustains a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. The force of impact causes the brain to twist, deform, or shift inside the skull, injuring brain tissue, blood vessels, and nerves. Doctors sometimes refer to concussions as “mild” traumatic brain injuries, but victims should always take any brain injury, concussions included, very seriously as a potential health risk.

Many scenarios can lead to someone suffering a concussion. Among the more common are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents;
  • Falls;
  • Exposure to explosions or concussive blasts;
  • Collisions while playing contact sports; and
  • Violent crimes.

These are just a few examples. Any bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body can result in a concussion. Always seek medical care after any such event, even if you do not think you suffered an injury, to screen for a potential concussion and other injuries that may not show immediate symptoms.

Symptoms of a Concussion

Brain imaging rarely will help diagnose a concussion—doctors generally use them to look for swelling of or bleeding on the brain. Instead of looking at a CAT scan, doctors will evaluate a patient’s symptoms to diagnose a concussion.

If you believe that you or someone around you has suffered a concussion, try to seek that medical attention soon afterward.

Common concussion symptoms include:

  • Loss of consciousness. A mild concussion can cause someone to lose consciousness for a few moments when they’re first inured; more severe concussion may cause someone to lose consciousness for several minutes
  • Amnesia, especially pertaining to the accident and injury themselves
  • Drowsiness, fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

These are just some of the common symptoms of a concussion. Importantly, these symptoms may not all appear at all, and they may evolve. For that reason, anyone who suffers a violent event that could cause a concussion should always seek medical care to receive screening for a concussion and other injuries.

Duration of Concussion Symptoms

Concussion victims may experience concussion symptoms that last anywhere from a few seconds to a few months. Some victims even develop a condition known as post-concussion syndrome, which may involve concussion symptoms lasting a year or more.

If you have concerns that your concussion symptoms are abnormal or have lasted too long, seek medical attention right away. A medical professional is always the best source of information and treatment for a concussion.

Concussions: Who Is At Risk?

Some people are more likely to suffer concussions than others. In some cases, they’re also less likely to receive appropriate treatment after a concussion. Below, we discuss two risk factors that can drastically increase someone’s chances of sustaining a concussion.

A High-Risk Job or High-Risk Hobbies

People do all sorts of different jobs; and they all like to spend their free time differently, too. People who work in dangerous occupations, like construction or oil and gas, face an inherent risk of concussions on the job. Even less-strenuous jobs could put a worker at risk for concussion, such as the risk of injury from falling objects when stocking shelves at a retail store or fulfillment center.

Some hobbies and extracurricular activities can also increase a person’s risk of suffering a concussion. Participation in high-contact sports like ice hockey, football, or MMA involves well-known and significant risks of sustaining a violent blow to the head or body that leads to a concussion. However, even collisions in lower-impact sports like soccer, baseball, and basketball can leave athletes concussed.

Children and the Elderly Have a Higher Concussion Risk Than Others

Young children (toddlers in particular) fall often and hit their heads, which is a reason why concussions occur often in that age group. The same goes for elderly adults, whose unsteadiness on their feet can lead to concussion-inducing falls.

Both groups also have a higher risk of having their concussion symptoms go unnoticed. They may hesitate to admit to the fall or incident that caused a concussion, or may try to brush it off out of embarrassment or a desire not to make a fuss. Others may not recognize concussion symptoms as such in these age groups, but may instead dismiss them as characteristics of the person’s age and/or mental abilities.

For these reasons, seeking immediate medical care after any incident that could cause a concussion is extremely important for people in any of the high-risk groups above. Allowing a concussion to go undiagnosed and untreated can put a victim at risk of major health complications and further brain trauma.

The Limited and Imperfect Role of CT (or CAT) Scans and Other Diagnostic Imaging in Concussion Diagnosis

As noted above, doctors typically start with two primary steps in diagnosing concussions: a review of a patient’s history and evaluation of symptoms. Sometimes, however, doctors do not find those steps, alone, adequate to differentiate concussion symptoms from other potential explanations.

In these cases, doctors will often use a third diagnostic method: medical imaging.

Computerized tomography scans (CT or CAT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help doctors make decisions about brain trauma.

  • CT scans involve taking multiple X-ray scans of the interior of a patient’s head and assembling them, via computer, into a 3-D visualization of the patient’s brain.
  • MRI scans involve developing a 3-D image of the interior of a patient’s head using a device that generates strong magnetic fields.

Through these methods, doctors can obtain images of brain lesions—or areas of the brain that appear abnormal compared to the rest of the image, possibly because of swelling, bruising, or bleeding.

However, diagnostic imaging is not perfect, nor is it definitive in many cases. CT scans, for instance, can miss signs of traumatic brain injury entirely, either because they are taken too late to spot lesions that have healed, or because the type of damage to brain tissue common in concussions is simply too microscopic for the CT scan to capture.

(For these reasons, some medical professionals prefer to use MRI imaging, which can achieve levels of image resolution superior to CT scans—and even then, the scan may not show damage.)

In other words, even if a CT scan does not show areas of obvious damage in a patient’s brain, the patient may still have suffered a concussion, or worse.

Seeking Compensation for a Concussion, Whether or Not a CT Scan Confirms It

Victims of concussions caused by someone else’s dangerous actions or decisions have the right to seek compensation through legal action in many cases. However, those victims sometimes make the mistake of thinking that if their doctor tells them a CT scan “looks good”, it means they did not suffer a brain injury or that their injury is not significant enough to warrant talking to a lawyer.

Do not fall into that mistaken thinking. Instead, remember that a “clean” CT scan does not rule out a concussion, it just means the technology cannot confirm one. Many people suffer concussions, and lasting concussion symptoms, that do not show up on a CT scan image.

If you have a “clean” CT scan, in other words, you may yet have significant and valuable rights to compensation. Here is how.

Legal Liability for Concussions

To begin, legal liability for a concussion does not depend on CT imaging. Instead, it depends on whether someone else made an unreasonably dangerous decision, or engaged in unreasonably dangerous actions, that led to you suffering harm.

In the case of a concussion, that could include someone like:

  • A motorist who made bad choices behind the wheel of a vehicle and caused an accident in which you suffered a concussion;
  • A coach, ref, or sports league that failed to protect athletes from blows to the head or body that could cause a concussion, or failed to respond appropriately when an athlete showed concussion symptoms after an on-field collision; or
  • A property owner who did not fix, or warn someone about, a dangerous condition on the owner’s premises that led to someone falling, hitting their head, and sustaining a concussion.

These are just three examples of the many potential ways that an individual, business, or organization could face legal liability for causing a concussion. Of course, those parties might try to deny liability by arguing that a “clean” CT scan means you did not suffer an injury, but with an experienced brain injury lawyer representing your interests, you can give yourself a strong chance of batting away that argument by collecting other evidence to prove that you did, in fact, suffer a concussion because of that party’s wrongful decisions or actions.

Damages for Concussions

Every case of concussion has unique features, of course. No two brain injuries are alike.

Nevertheless, in many cases, a victim of a concussion caused by someone else’s carelessness or recklessness can often take legal action seeking compensation for:

  • Medical expenses related to treating the concussion and any long-lasting concussion symptoms;
  • Other expenses that arise because of the concussion and its symptoms, such as the cost of hiring someone to help out around the house while the victim recovers;
  • Lost income the concussion victim would have earned, but did not, because concussion symptoms kept the victim out of work temporarily or permanently;
  • Pain, suffering, damage to relationships, and diminished life enjoyment stemming from the difficulties and challenges of living with concussion symptoms; and
  • In some cases, punitive damages aimed at punishing the party with legal liability for engaging in extreme or outrageous conduct that led to the concussion.

On behalf of a concussion victim—even one with a “clean” CT scan—an experienced brain injury lawyer can often assemble evidence and arguments to prove that the victim suffered significant harm falling into the categories above. A lawyer cannot guarantee that a concussion victim will recover that compensation through legal action, but victims who hire skilled brain injury lawyers can have the reassurance that comes with the knowledge that their lawyer knows how to investigate and litigate brain injury cases successfully.

If You Suffered a Concussion

Attorney John Gomez - San Diego Injury Attorney

Personal Injury Attorney, John Gomez

Prioritize your health by seeking immediate medical attention from a doctor who can screen you for a concussion and other potential injuries. Never assume that if you feel okay after a violent blow, bump, or jolt to your head or body, that means you are, in fact, okay. Concussions do not necessarily show symptoms right away, but doctors can often spot them quickly by examining you.

If you seek medical attention and a doctor wants to take a diagnostic image like a CT scan or MRI, be sure to understand why the doctor prescribes that approach, and its limitations. Remember, a doctor’s inability to spot brain lesions on a CT scan does not necessarily mean you did not suffer a concussion. It just means that a CT scan cannot confirm your brain injury.

After seeking medical treatment for a concussion, no matter what your CT scan shows, contact an experienced brain injury lawyer to learn about your potential legal rights to receive compensation. It may surprise you to hear what a skilled brain injury attorney can do for you.


Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619)-237-3490

Posted in: Brain Injuries
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