Whiplash Injuries and Missed Diagnoses of Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is also becoming a “hot topic” as it relates to motor vehicle collisions (MVC). The question is: how often is TBI missed?

The simple answer is: FREQUENTLY! This is due to the fact that attention is often drawn toward other injuries such as a neck injury or a limb injury. One study found that doctors were more likely to miss an mTBI diagnosis in patients who had sustained an arm or leg fracture. Among a total of 251 trauma patients, only 8.8% were diagnosed with mTBI at the time of injury vs. 23.5% who were eventually diagnosed at a later date. The authors of the study note the importance for healthcare providers to not be overly focused on the most obvious injury, as it may result in missing an mTBI diagnosis and the opportunity for early management of the condition—potentially leading to greater pain, suffering, and long-term disability.

But how “good” is our ability to assess mTBI? In a recent study on the ability of sideline assessments to predict subsequent problems after a sport-related concussion, researchers concluded that although sideline measures are useful for diagnosing concussion, they are not suitable for determining the extent of injury one to two weeks post-injury.

Part of the problem associated with concussion, regardless of cause, is an overall lack of knowledge about the condition on the part of athletes, parents, coaches, and medical professionals. In a Canadian survey of members of these groups, “predictors” of better concussion knowledge included prior personal experience or history of concussion. Factors affecting knowledge included language, age, educational level, annual household income, and TBI history.

Yet another issue is the “under reporting” of concussion. Looking at gender differences in a total of 288 athletes across 7 sports (198 males, 90 females), in spite of having similar knowledge about concussion, female athletes were more likely to report their concussive symptoms than males.

Sobering facts: 1) About 1.7 million cases of TBI occur in the US annually, and approximately 5.3 million live with a disability caused by TBI; 2) Annual direct and indirect TBI costs are estimated at $48-56 billion; 3) Among children under fourteen years of age, TBI results in 2,685 deaths and 37,000 hospitalizations; 4) Between 50-70% of TBI accidents are the result of a motor vehicle crash.

Author
Dr. James Sheehan Dr. James Sheehan is an expert in the treatment of neck and back pain.

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