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Traumatic Brain Injury: Four Reasons Cases Are Not Diagnosed

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) often go undiagnosed and untreated. I regularly meet families with a loved one suffering significant changes in behavior, memory or cognitive function from a brain injury. Despite these life-altering injuries, the injured person’s medical records frequently omit any mention of problems. Why do many TBI cases go undiagnosed and untreated?

I believe factors within both the medical community and affected families lead to this problem. March is brain injury awareness month. More families should be aware of the need for TBI assessment and treatment following a head injury. Here are four reasons TBI cases are often undiagnosed.

EMERGENCY ROOMS IGNORE MILD TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY SYMPTOMS

Face it – Emergency rooms are crowded, hectic places. Emergency room doctors and nurses face life or death decisions. If the patient is stable at the moment, conditions may go untreated. It’s not just head injury cases. I see clients who visit the ER with back or neck complaints following an accident, are told by ER medical staff they are fine and discover later they suffer significant injuries.

Add to the chaos of an emergency room the fact many head injury victims initially act normal. Some TBI symptoms are slow to develop. The injury may not be evident immediately after a trauma.

Finally, X-rays, MRIs, and CTs in the emergency room can fail to show mild traumatic brain injury. A patient may have perfectly normal imaging scans but suffer from a mild TBI. Despite being called “mild” by the medical community, such injuries can produce significant changes in cognitive, emotional, behavioral and even physical functions. Many patients with problems from mild TBI experience long-term problems and long-term difficulties continuing to work.

MANY DOCTORS DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE SYMPTOMS AND NATURE OF TBI

As patients, we trust our doctors. Yet, many doctors are not fully trained or experienced in the signs, symptoms or treatment of TBI. And, many patients with TBI symptoms look absolutely fine. Other TBI patients exhibit emotional problems doctors easily attribute to depression or other issues. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard an inexperienced physician make statements completely contrary to established brain injury research. The lack of trained medical professionals in this area is a huge problem.

In TBI cases it is absolutely essential the patient see a proper specialist. That is, someone who has studied brain injury research and treated actual TBI patients. We are fortunate in Alabama to have excellent resources in this field, especially at UAB. In addition to certain medical physicians, specially trained neuropsychologists evaluate and treat TBI cases. Neuropsychologists are trained to conduct a battery of tests on patients so that brain injuries and their impacts on specific patients can be determined. This diagnosis and care is crucial to understanding and treating a specific brain injury.

IN WORK-RELATED ACCIDENTS, INSURANCE COMPANIES ACTIVELY IGNORE PROBLEMS

This is a problem I see often in my workers’ compensation cases. In Alabama workers’ compensation cases, the insurance company gets to pick your initial doctor. And, the insurance company frequently places its motive to save money over its duty to provide good medical treatment. That means the insurance company will ignore injuries if possible. In mild TBI cases, the insurance company can, and usually does, ignore the injuries. It’s important you push for the care you need. And, it’s important you seek legal counsel if the insurance carrier refuses to give you that care.

INJURED PATIENTS DENY SYMPTOMS

Denial. Many patients with head injuries deny the problem. Why? For some patients, they don’t even realize their problems. That’s why I typically interview family members who interact with the injury victim on a daily basis. Many times, a spouse, parent or sibling has witnessed significant changes in function that the injury victim himself does not realize.

For other TBI victims, they are embarrassed to admit they may now struggle with memory or thinking. They may be worried by their changed functions or altered emotions. It’s difficult to grasp changes which can deeply impact your identity or family role. And, it’s difficult to admit those changes to others. Yet, it’s important to do so.

If you or a loved one suffer problems associated with TBI or head trauma, you should seek answers. Don’t be a victim a second time by going undiagnosed and untreated. Your health is too important.