CT Scan vs. MRI – What’s Best for a Sports-related Concussion?

concussion-football-playerA hockey check, a bicycle accident, a fall from a tree. All are potential causes of a concussion or traumatic brain injury. Concussions, and especially sports-related concussions, can vary in the extent of the injury and the severity of the symptoms. Common mental or physical symptoms might include trouble concentrating, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, sensitivity to light or forgetfulness.

Correct management of a sports-related concussion is crucial in not only helping the athlete begin healing, but in preventing further damage. It can be difficult, however, to understand the proper course of action. Some athletes will not need imaging performed; but they may need to not participate in sports for a period of time and gradually return to play.

Immediately After a Sports-related Injury

The first and most important step when an athlete suffers a sports-related injury is removing the athlete from play and have an assessment done by an experienced medical professional. This blog post from our medical imaging partner Shields Health Care Group summarizes possible tests that might be done after a sports-related concussion.

CT vs. MRI

Brain imaging, such as a CT scan, shouldn’t be used to diagnose a sports related concussion, and the majority of athletes with concussions will not require any brain imaging. However if there are signs and symptoms that suggest a more serious injury, such as an intracranial bleed, a CT scan is the test of choice in the first 24 to 48 hours. Some of these more serious symptoms include seizures, nausea/vomiting, drowsiness, severe headaches and prolonged loss of consciousness.

After 48 hours, however, MRI is the preferred brain imaging technique, as MRI is more sensitive than CT in detecting small intracranial bleeds and brain bruises. Another advantage of MRI over CT is the lack of X-ray radiation.

MRI may be helpful in evaluating those patients with prolonged symptoms, or post-concussion syndrome. While standard MRI studies are often negative following concussion, advanced MRI techniques that are being investigated may improve diagnosis of brain injury.

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