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How do doctors determine the severity of a brain injury?

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can result in a wide variety of symptoms. Because the brain is such a complex organ, each TBI can be considered a unique injury. If you have a loved one who recently received a TBI, the unique nature of the injury can make it difficult to predict what lasting symptoms your loved one may experience, what treatments he or she might benefit from and what abilities he or she may recover in time.

The impact the TBI has on your loved one can depend on several factors, including, the specific type of injury, the part of the brain that was injured and the severity of the injury. While the type of injury and affected part of the brain may seem simple enough to understand, many do not understand how doctors are able to measure the severity of an injury.

A response scoring system measures severity

Your loved one’s doctors will likely use the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) to gauge the severity of your loved one’s injury. The GCS is a scoring system that can help medical professionals describe your loved one’s level of consciousness after a traumatic event. It can provide information initially, and can also be used to compare the progress of your loved one’s injury over time.

The GCS will measure your loved one’s:

  • Eyes opening
  • Verbal responses
  • Motor responses

How is the GCS scored?

The quality of your loved one’s eye, verbal and motor responses will be rated with a number. The sum of the numbers equals your loved one’s total score out of 15.

Although each brain injury is unique, a total score of eight or less is usually considered severe, a total score between nine and 12 is considered moderate and a score between 13 and 15 is considered mild. Mild brain injuries can still cause symptoms that may be temporary or permanent. Moderate and sever brain injuries can result in long-term or permanent impairments.

Because each TBI is unique, your loved one’s doctor may be your best source of information regarding your loved one’s injury. However, understanding the GCS can help you better communicate with the doctor and others about your loved one’s condition.


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