How are concussions diagnosed?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

If you suffer a head injury, you should see your doctor immediately. Most concussions are diagnosed based on the accident you suffered and the symptoms you are experiencing. However, before the doctor can diagnose the concussion, he or she must first rule out more traumatic brain injuries. Typically, your doctor will use a CT scan to rule out any brain bleeds.

Concussions are diagnosed clinically, meaning based on your history of injury, the current symptoms you are suffering, and a physical exam. Other tools have been developed and validated to assist in diagnosis (and in determining recovery) such as balance tests and computer-based neurocognitive tests such as ImPACT. Doctors cannot tell you when they diagnose a concussion how bad it is or how long it will take to recover. That can only be determined over time with ongoing evaluation and management.
Christopher Giza, MD
There is no single test to diagnose a concussion because a concussion is a brain movement injury that affects different parts of the brain and different functions. Most schools don't have any protocol. Those that do have a protocol that sometimes will rely on baseline computer testing that will pick up some concussions but also produce some false positives.

A protocol can involve a multimodal assessment at baseline and post-concussion; measure of balance and eye movements; eye tracking, neurological and eye examinations; check of reaction time. With multiple tests there is less likelihood of missing a concussion.

There are people who have pretty bad balance at baseline, but they are cognitively very sharp, so you want to check the cognitive test and see if they have a problem number reading, for example. The same assessment may be used for youth athletes as well as college athletes.
This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.