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Identifying brain injury - Subtle clues for your GP to look out for

13 May 2019

There can be many subtle symptoms that are indicative of a brain injury. Some symptoms such as memory issues or a difficulty in maintaining concentration or even an increase in the severity or frequency of headaches might be easier for the sufferer to spot and indicate to them that something is else is going on. However, sometimes other symptoms such as a change in taste or certain foods, vision changes, hearing difficulties, dizziness or nausea etc. a sufferer may not link to a head injury.

Furthermore it is often the people around the sufferer or injured person who are most likely to spot a change in personality or emotional outbursts. Understanding that these symptoms can be linked is not always as straight forward and noting the relevance of these symptoms is not always clear.

As a result often when people go to their GPs following an accident they might not mention these symptoms as they don’t recognise or understand their importance. It is therefore imperative that GPs can ask the right and leading questions to patients to assist in the diagnosis of a brain injury.

To do this, GPs need to have the tools to hand and to understand the hidden effects and symptoms of an acquired brain injury. According to national statistics, on average GPs spend approximately 10 minutes with a patient for a consultation. The demands on the NHS services mean that GPs are pressured on the amount of time that they can spend with a patient for a single consultation and they can see up to 40 patients a day.

It is therefore imperative that this time is put to good use and that the more subtle symptoms can be identified and a right diagnosis identified. Often acquired brain injuries will initially go unnoticed and this is mainly because the patient does not understand the relevance or recognise certain symptoms in themselves to flag them to their GP. In turn, their GP is not asking them the relevant leading questions to uncover these symptoms. This means that GPs have to conduct further testing to be able to make the diagnosis of a brain injury. The longer it takes to diagnose the brain injury, the longer it takes before the right treatment and support can be put in place for the sufferer and their family.

Many campaigns for awareness and training on these subtle symptoms are underway. One example is that Headway (Brain Injury Charity) have teamed up with the Royal College of General Practitioners’ (RCGP) to create an online training platform available to practices. This is an online training resource and is available free of charge to give an introduction and relevant updates to brain injury conditions and to direct them to further resources available on the subject. The hope is that practices will adopt this training to assist them in identifying the key questions to ask when presented with someone who has suffered a trauma.

What victims of a trauma can do themselves is research the subtle symptoms of a brain injury and keep a log of any changes or new symptoms that they themselves notice, no matter how irrelevant they may feel it is. It is also important to get family members to do the same. They can take these notes along with them for discussion when they see their GP, or they could act as a prompt to remind themselves of the changes they have noted. This will hopefully mean that the consultations are productively spent and it will lead to a more quick and accurate diagnosis.

By Hannah Nelmes

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