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Traumatic Brain Injuries Commonly Missed in Emergency Rooms

At least 1.7 million people suffer brain injuries each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An overwhelming number of traumatic brain injuries are undiagnosed and untreated, particularly in hospital emergency rooms.

The key root word in “traumatic brain injury” is “trauma.” Brain injury specialists explain that brain injury victims have actual physical damage to the brain. Brain injuries have a litany of symptoms, which include headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to light, mood swings, changes in vision, slow or foggy thinking, and cognitive impairment. Though these symptoms present in a variety of combinations, traumatic brain injuries are still largely overlooked.

A University of Washington study found that 56 percent of mild traumatic brain injuries went undiagnosed in emergency room visits. According to the study, as many as 80 percent of all adults with a traumatic brain injury are discharged the same day without being admitted to the hospital. The study also reasoned that emergency rooms often focus on ruling out severe brain injuries through imaging and do not thoroughly screen for brain injuries with negative imaging results and injuries with no reported loss of consciousness. These facts do not rule out a brain injury.

According to the CDC, negative imaging results in CT scans and MRIs also do not rule out brain injuries. In addition, per the University of Washington study, brain injury victims often deny simple questions regarding loss of consciousness but then confirm brain injury symptoms by recapping events that note memory gaps or periods of confusion.

In our law practice, many clients with severe orthopedic injuries also suffer from overlooked brain injuries. Despite the lack of initial diagnoses, many suffer from long-term, life-altering impairments. It is vital to monitor brain injury symptoms.

Victims of traumatic brain injury are not appropriately monitored and treated without an initial traumatic brain injury diagnosis. The University of Washington study noted that undiagnosed brain injuries have clinical consequences. It is important for patients to be aware of brain injury symptoms; to continue to monitor the presence of symptoms even if a brain injury is not initially diagnosed; and immediately seek medical help if brain injury symptoms present.


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McInnes, K, Friesen CL, MacKenzie, DE, Westwood, DA, Boe SG (2017) Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) and chronic cognitive impairment. A scoping review. PLoS ONE 12(4): 30174847.

Facts about Concussion and Brain Injury. Center of Disease Control, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Gaw, Christopher E. and Zonfrillo, Mark R. Emergency department visits for head trauma in the United States. BMC Emergency Medicine (2016) 16:5 DOI 10.1186/a12873-016-0071-8.

Trifan, Gabriela, Gattu, Ramtilak, Haacke, Ewart Mark, Kou, Zhifeng, Benson, Randall R. MR imaging findings in mild traumatic brain injury with persistent neurological impairmentMagnetic Resonance Imaging 37 (2017) 243-251.