Understanding Diagnostic Tests

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There are many different diagnostic tests which may performed on someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury, or who is having unexplained neurological problems. These diagnostic tests function both to examine the structure of the brain and to monitor its functions. Generally speaking, diagnostic tests are conducted to either detect or diagnose disease. Diagnostic tests can be used in determining whether a person has suffered a brain injury, as well as for other medical reasons. Some of these tests include computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) scan, and electroencephalography (EEG) tests.

Both the CT scan and the MRI is used to view the structure of the brain. Both of these tests can produce images that allow doctors to view a patient's brain as 'slices' and as three-dimensional images. A CT scan, also known as a CAT scan (for computed axial tomography), uses X-rays to diagnose intracranial hemorrhages and cerebrovascular injuries. Tomography is simply the ability to show images in sections. The MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, as its name implies, uses magnetic fields to detect diseased tissue within the brain, such as a brain tumor.

Generally, the MRI is preferred over the CT scan when a patient must undergo many tests. This is due to its use of magnetic fields rather than radiation. They are used to diagnose certain diseases, to measure the recovery, or process to recovery, from a disease, and to confirm that a person is free from a disease they once had.

SPECT scanning and EEG tests are used to monitor the functions of the brain and to detect brain damage. The SPECT scan is used to show how blood moves throughout the arteries and veins of the brain. It does this using a chemical that emits gamma rays. The chemical is injected into the patient's bloodstream, and a scanner can then detect the gamma rays and present them as images for a doctor or other diagnostician to view.

EEG tests, also known as electroencephalography tests, monitor the electrical activity in a patient's brain. An EEG test is capable of doing this with electrodes that are attached to various places on the scalp. One major advantage of using an EEG test over other diagnostic tests is its ability to measure brain activity directly, rather than through blood flow and other means.

When explaining the results from a test, they can either be negative or positive. This does not have anything to do with whether the prognosis is good or bad, but if the test worked or failed to work. Many confuse a negative result, thinking that it means a disease is present when they were hoping it wasn't. It means the opposite, that there was no disease found. Of course, the opposite is true for a positive result.

Each diagnostic test can give neurologists and other doctors helpful information that can be used to either prevent brain damage and disease, or to treat a patient who is suffering from brain damage or disease.

When a patient understands the results of a diagnostic test, they can then begin to understand the cause of their symptoms. Their physician or health-care provider can use the results of the diagnostic testing to help explain the patient's condition and treatment options. Diagnostic testing can be an important tool in the patient's treatment plan, since it can help establish the nature and extent of the patient's injury or illness, and therefore lead to more targeted and effective treatment, whether for brain injuries or any other kind of injury or illness.


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