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How can you determine the severity of a traumatic brain injury?

If you're involved in any kind of auto accident, there's a good risk that you'll end up hitting your head. Whether you bump it on the seat in front of you or an airbag explodes into you face, it's possible to end up with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) even after a fairly low-impact accident.

How do paramedics determine how serious the TBI is following the accident?

There's actually a fairly complex method used to assess even minor brain trauma -- doctors and paramedics are trained to look at the following different things:

  • The amount of memory loss you have after the accident, which is often called post-traumatic amnesia (PTA)
  • The length of time you spent fully unconscious
  • The extent of any coma, which refers to a state of being where you are largely unresponsive to your environment -- even if you look like you are awake or just sleeping

One of the first things that paramedics on the scene will assess is your Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). This measures your basic responses to commands, how well you can respond verbally, your ability to open and close your eyes and your ability to move on command.

The lower your score, the more severe your brain injury is likely to be. A score of three is used to describe someone who doesn't respond to verbal commands at all, seems unaffected by outside stimuli and isn't speaking. If you score a nine or above, you aren't considered to be in a coma -- but that doesn't mean that you don't necessarily have brain damage. Only a score of 15 is considered fully alert and functioning normally.

Your level of functioning is likely to be assessed at various points throughout your encounter with medical professionals -- so don't be surprised if you are asked to repeat certain movements or physical actions more than once.

Naturally, these tests are used in conjunction with more modern tests, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and x-ray exams, to look for hidden bleeding or swelling on the brain -- but the initial assessments are important clues for doctors who are trying to assess the severity of your wounds and track your progress.

Anyone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury due to a car accident should consult an attorney about his or her right to compensation.

Source: MSKTC, "Understanding TBI: Part 1 - What happens to the brain during injury and the early stages of recovery from TBI?," Thomas Novack, accessed Sep. 29, 2017

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