A car accident, slipping and falling, suffering a blow to the head at a construction or industrial job site – these and many more accidents can result in traumatic brain injury (TBI). Any sudden impact on the head can cause the brain to bounce or twist inside the skull, damaging brain cells, breaking blood vessels, and causing chemical changes. 

If you have been in an accident and suffered head trauma, you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of TBI, as well as the best available diagnostic procedures and technologies. 

The Importance of Early Diagnosis

TBI is a serious medical condition that requires prompt and thorough diagnosis. Recognizing the signs and symptoms and promptly seeking medical care and support can significantly improve the prognosis of individuals suffering from TBI. Early diagnosis of TBI is crucial for two reasons:

  1. Treatment and rehabilitation: Early and accurate detection of TBI is necessary to ensure proper medical care. Understanding the extent and severity of the injury will also facilitate the implementation of a rehabilitation program, if necessary, to ensure the best possible outcome for the victim.
  2. Legal and Insurance Purposes: A timely diagnosis is also necessary for legal and insurance purposes, especially in cases of accidents or violence.

Signs and Symptoms of TBI

TBI is a broad term that encompasses a range of head injuries, from mild concussions to severe brain damage. The signs and symptoms of TBI vary depending on the severity of the injury. It is also important to understand that the onset of symptoms may not be immediate. Some common signs of TBI include:

  • Loss of Consciousness: If you lose consciousness following a head trauma, this is consistent with TBI.
  • Confusion: If you are experiencing confusion, memory problems, or difficulty concentrating, you may have experienced TBI.
  • Dizziness or Loss of Balance: TBI may cause balance problems, dizziness, or difficulty walking.
  • Motor Impairments: Weakness, numbness, or other motor problems may occur.
  • Slurred Speech: Difficulty in communicating may indicate TBI.
  • Sensory Changes: Blurred vision, ringing in the ears, or heightened sensitivity to light and noise can be signs of TBI.
  • Severe Headache: A severe headache that persists or worsens over time can indicate TBI.
  • Vomiting or Nausea: If you experience nausea and vomiting following a head injury, this may be indicative of TBI.
  • Sleep Disorders: Insomnia or excessive drowsiness may result from TBI.
  • Changes in Behavior: TBI may even cause personality changes, irritability or mood swings.
  • Seizures: Seizures can occur following TBI, even if there is no history of epilepsy.

If you or someone you know has sustained a head trauma and is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention to ensure proper diagnosis and care. 

Diagnostic Procedures for TBI

The diagnostic process for TBI involves multiple steps. 

Medical Exam

The first thorough medical exam. This includes a neurological evaluation of multiple areas of brain function, including thinking, coordination, reflexes, motor function (i.e. movement), sensory function and eye movement. 

Doctors will also obtain a full medical history of the victim. This includes details on any symptoms the victim is experiencing, the circumstances surrounding the head injury, and information about any past head injuries or previous occurrences of current symptoms. This medical history is important because the prognosis and long-term effects depend not only on the seriousness of the injury but also on previous brain injuries and the age and general health of a patient.

CT Scan and MRI

After a physical assessment, the next step has traditionally been a referral for a computerized Tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These scans can detect internal bleeding requiring immediate medical or surgical attention. Unfortunately, these imaging tests cannot detect all TBIs. Furthermore, there can be significant delays in the availability of these tests. 

Alternative and emerging technologies may provide other options for the diagnosis of TBI.


CT and MRI scans look at structural abnormalities in the brain — i.e. physical damage. A single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan, on the other hand, focuses on brain function. SPECT scans can detect blood flow abnormalities in the brain, indicating TBI. However, other disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can appear similarly on the scan. For this reason, there is no consensus within the medical community that a SPECT scan can confirm the cause of the abnormalities — i.e., that they result from TBI. 

Here, we must distinguish between using SPECT scans in medical and legal contexts. These scans may be one component of a conclusive medical diagnosis of TBI. However, because the scan can’t indicate causality to a medical certainty, its use in personal injury claims is limited. SPECT scans have been submitted as evidence in personal injury claims in Ontario. However, in a claim where the injured party co-morbidly suffered from depression, the scan was deemed inadmissible. 

Find out more about SPECT scans here.

Blood Test

A handheld device now exists that can diagnose TBI in under 15 minutes. This device called i-Stat Alinity, draws a blood sample from the patient’s arm and tests it for molecular markers that are released by the brain when a trauma occurs.

i-Stat Alinity has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but is not currently used in Canada. If approved, it has the potential to dramatically accelerate patient triage and diagnosis, which can lead to better treatment and outcomes, shorten hospital stays, and thereby free up medical system resources. This diagnostic tool could facilitate faster resolution of legal claims, thereby reducing costs to all parties, court caseloads, and timelines.

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP in Calgary for Advice on Dealing With a Traumatic Brain Injury

If you or someone you know has sustained a head injury due to someone else’s negligence, don’t delay obtaining legal advice. Our knowledgeable personal injury lawyers can advise you on what compensation you may be entitled to and how best to document and advance your claim. To schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team, contact us online or by phone at 403-571-0555.