The MRI is Normal, But I Feel Different. Are MRIs Conclusive in TBI Cases?

head trauma and mental health

So, you fall off a ladder, get whiplash in a car accident, or wipe out on your bike and whack your head. You may get diagnosed with a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI) and told to “take it easy.” But then you start experiencing brain fog, a fuzzy memory, irritability, blue moods, or other issues.

In a pro-active move, you decide to seek professional help and are advised to get a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. You’re hoping it will reveal answers that could lead to effective solutions for these problems. But then your physician tells you that your MRI results are normal and that’s the end of the line in terms of any treatment. But you’re still experiencing bothersome symptoms. How frustrating!

When it comes to your cognitive, emotional, and psychological health following a head injury, MRI is not conclusive, and it isn’t the best brain imaging tool. Before exploring why MRI falls short and why other types of brain imaging are more effective, let’s look at how TBIs impact mental health.

When it comes to your cognitive, emotional, and psychological health following a head injury, MRI is not conclusive, and it isn’t the best brain imaging tool. Click To Tweet

HEAD TRAUMA AND MENTAL HEALTH

Many people, including many mental health professionals, don’t realize that head trauma is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems. Some of the problems that can develop following a TBI include:

A history of head injuries has also been linked to greater odds of incarceration and homelessness. Sometimes these symptoms develop soon after a brain injury; other times they don’t appear until weeks, months, or even years later. For this reason, many people don’t make the connection between their psychological issues, cognitive troubles, or behavioral problems and a past concussion or TBI.

WHY MRI DOESN’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY FOLLOWING A TBI

MRI isn’t the most useful scanning technology when psychological or cognitive issues develop after a head injury. This is because MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to provide detailed pictures, only shows the structure and anatomy of the brain. The 3-D images it creates can reveal anatomical problems in the brain or brain stem, such as swelling, inflammation, tumors, cysts, blood vessel problems, or infections.

The problem with MRI is that it doesn’t provide any information about the way the brain is functioning. And mental, emotional, and behavioral issues are all related to brain function.

In fact, many times an MRI will appear normal after a TBI when there is actually functional damage to the brain that could be contributing to mental health symptoms.

SPECT: A BETTER BRAIN IMAGING TOOL FOR HEAD INJURIES

Functional brain SPECT imaging is a better way to identify areas of the brain that aren’t working optimally after a concussion, TBI, or repetitive sub-concussive traumas (like contact from tackle football, blows from boxing, or heading soccer balls).

SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, this state-of-the-art brain mapping tool shows three things:

  • Areas of the brain with healthy activity
  • Areas of the brain with too little activity
  • Areas of the brain with too much activity

Even if MRI results are normal following a head injury, SPECT can reveal areas of the brain that aren’t functioning optimally. Then based on what is seen, treatment can help balance your brain—to calm it down if it is working too hard or stimulate it if it is underactive.

One of the big lessons from brain SPECT imaging is that a TBI—even a mild one that doesn’t cause you to blackout—can ruin your life (and subsequently impact the lives of your loved ones). Without functional brain imaging tools like SPECT, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals will never be able to know if psychological, behavioral, and cognitive issues are related to underlying brain dysfunction. Without that information, they have to rely solely on symptom clusters, which can lead to misdiagnosis and treatment failures.

SPECT scans show that approximately 40% of patients who come to Amen Clinics have experienced a TBI. Many of them don’t even recall experiencing a head injury. Prior to undergoing brain SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics, many of them were misdiagnosed and struggled with multiple treatment failures.

Functional brain imaging with SPECT gives psychiatrists valuable insights that can help them identify any underlying problems with brain activity, so you can get the most effective treatment plan and start feeling better fast.

TBIs—along with the depression, anxiety, brain fog, and other mental health conditions that can develop after a head injury—can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental and cognitive well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer a Concussion Rescue Program that includes brain SPECT imaging and has already helped thousands of patients improve their cognitive function. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

24 Comments

  1. Are there any SPECT scanners in the UK?

    Comment by Jacqui — February 22, 2021 @ 3:27 AM

  2. A question: Is there possible connection between TBI and migraines?

    I was in a car accident in 1997. Prior to that time I had not had migraines. Within 3 weeks of the accident I was having migraines so serious it was difficult to function. I have now progressed to the point that I have from 3 to 6 migraines a week, ranging in severity from a low of 3 to a 9 on the 1-10 pain scale (a 10 for me is the impacted kidney stones I had pre lithotripsy), and lasting from 3+ hours to days. I’ve seen multiple neurologists, both in the Washington, D.C. area -where I lived at the time of the accident- and since moving to Texas in 2004. Two of the last 3 neurologists I have seen are recognized as specialties in treating migraines. In addition to studies to identify triggers I’ve had many, many different treatments –including what I understand to have been most/all of latest drugs for the 23 year period , as well as chiropractic, bio-feedback, acupuncture, and electronic stimulation of both the vegas and the tri-gemic nerves. The vegas stimulation worked wonders for 8+ months, then phased out over the last 2 months of the treatment, then stopped. The tri-gemic stimulator (Cefaly) is now the most successful relief I get, both in frequency and severity, yet I still have at least 3 migraines -and usually more- a week. The only consistent drug-aided relief over the years is with Maxalt (works about 1/2 the time, sometimes to stop the pain, others to simply reduce it), which I am told not to take more than 8 to 10 times a month. I’ve been on major pain drugs, but they did nothing other than mask the pain for a short period of time -demerol AND codine, simultaneously at one time, which I insisted on stopping because of the total fog it left me in and the fact it/they did nothing to reduce the migraines.
    Obviously this has a major affect on my ability to function.
    Any information on possible cause-and-affect of a TBI and migraine -especially if there is anything I can do to control the migraines-would be welcome.

    Comment by Gerald Gibson — February 22, 2021 @ 4:32 AM

  3. my wife (age 75) had a bad fall and TBI about 2 years ago. Despite many visits to doctors, MRIs and therapy she is suffering from balance and gait problems, memory loss, severe brain fog and what seems like dementia. Doctors say that her MRIs show extensive “white matter” in her brain.
    Please help us with any suggestions as to treatment for her. She is a lovely person and we hope that you can help provide some answers.
    Thank You

    Comment by fred granger — February 22, 2021 @ 6:25 AM

  4. What can happen to a child that was tested for no brain wave activity in the front part of the brain? What is the result if a child was injured at a 2 and now is 13 and wasn’t treated at age 2?

    Comment by Evelyn Rider — February 22, 2021 @ 7:23 AM

  5. Would a SPECT brain scan be of any help for this “rare case study?” I have a sibling that was diagnosed with late-onset (age 37) schizophrenia/he is now 64 yrs old. He had a normal, active , healthy body & lifestyle (no drugs, drinking, medications; no health issues, no other head or bodily injuries before that point when psychosis began… (EXCEPT ) FOR A 20-YEAR PRIOR=HIT TO THE HEAD = (baseball hard hit; blacked out/fainted but recovered with no known health issues/no medical testing was done). In addition, approx. 10-12 years AFTER his schizophrenia diagnosis, he suffered another TBI (a near-deadly blow to the brain w hard bat/medically confirmed via MRI). CAN A SPECT BRAIN SCAN help our sibling at this point in any way in light of these 3 brain issues & how they overlap/interact? (1) Schizophrenia (brain functionality or prognosis); (2) First & Second TBIs he experienced/prognosis? (3) How all 3 brain issues interfere/interact or effect each other/prognosis given that each of these brain injuries happened years/decades apart?

    Comment by Jeanette S. — February 22, 2021 @ 7:37 AM

  6. Does Spect use a radioactive dye to screen the brain? I am afraid of radioactive dyes. Also what is the cost? Do you have a sliding scale fee?

    Comment by Donna Connely — February 22, 2021 @ 7:40 AM

  7. what about something like sjogrens syndrome??
    will SPECT help with that??

    Comment by annemarie — February 22, 2021 @ 8:33 AM

  8. Do you take SPECT scans after healing (3 months, 6 months, etc. whatever the healing period has been. Does the SPECT scan display the blood flow to that area of the brain as normal?

    If so, how have you regained normal blood flow to the concussed area?

    Comment by James W "Jim" Lohr — February 22, 2021 @ 9:16 AM

  9. Hello Gerald, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with additional information about TBIs and migraines. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 22, 2021 @ 10:47 AM

  10. Hello Fred, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with additional information about TBIs. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 22, 2021 @ 10:49 AM

  11. Hello James, thank you for reaching out. We do offer re-SPECT scans after a recommended healing period if the patient has adhered to the treatment plan. For more information, please contact our Care Coordinators here: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 22, 2021 @ 11:18 AM

  12. Hello annemarie, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 22, 2021 @ 11:19 AM

  13. Hello Donna, yes we use a radiotracer. There is more information here: https://www.amenclinics.com/faq/. For current pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/. Thank you for reaching out.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 22, 2021 @ 11:21 AM

  14. Hello Jeanette S., thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 22, 2021 @ 11:22 AM

  15. In addition to the great things presented by Amen Clinics, addressing the structural damage from head injuries is important. I practice Osteopathy, a manual therapy aimed at restoring normal circulation and function to the whole body. for example, migraines definitely have a structural component from the impact and from injuries to other areas (such as the sacrum or neck). TBIs can also be improved by Osteopathy.

    Comment by Kristin Thom — February 22, 2021 @ 2:46 PM

  16. I’m interested in finding out about SPECT
    & migraines. I’m 72 and hopefully I’ll be 73 in September. However I’ve been getting these migraines since I was 13yrs old. Plus I’m the year 2000, I fell off of a ladder and hit the back of my head. That particular spot started up hurting again. I’m one of those people who have had multiple MRI’s. I need some answers. Thank you!

    Comment by Theresa Royster — February 22, 2021 @ 3:24 PM

  17. Do you have any facilities in Cape Girardeau,MO?

    Comment by Robin Slinkard — February 22, 2021 @ 3:29 PM

  18. If you take Blue Cross and. Blue Shield I’ll make an appointment ASAP.

    Comment by John — February 22, 2021 @ 3:35 PM

  19. I am expiransing cognitive decline loss of memory and depression I’m an Artist can see the changes in my art I m 68 years old

    Comment by Dalit Tayar — February 22, 2021 @ 8:59 PM

  20. Are SPECT scans covered by insurance?

    Comment by Jayelynn Weinel — February 23, 2021 @ 7:11 AM

  21. Hello Theresa, we’d be happy to reach out to you directly with more information about SPECT imaging and migraines. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 23, 2021 @ 11:42 AM

  22. Hello Robin, Amen Clinics currently has 9 locations: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/. For more information about scheduling, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 23, 2021 @ 11:44 AM

  23. Hello Jayelynn, Amen Clinics is an out-of-network provider and we do not bill insurance. We do provide a superbill containing applicable diagnosis and billing codes, which can be submitted to insurance companies for possible reimbursement. Our doctors and therapists are not affiliated with any insurance plans or networks. Please check with your insurance provider for any mental health benefits. For additional information regarding your pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 23, 2021 @ 12:14 PM

  24. Hello John, Amen Clinics is an out-of-network provider and we do not bill insurance. We do provide a superbill containing applicable diagnosis and billing codes, which can be submitted to insurance companies for possible reimbursement. Our doctors and therapists are not affiliated with any insurance plans or networks. Please check with your insurance provider for any mental health benefits. For additional information regarding your pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 23, 2021 @ 12:15 PM

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