Diagnosing a subdural haematoma 

Subdural haematomas are diagnosed based on a person's medical history, symptoms and the results of a brain scan.

Checking your medical history

The doctor assessing you in hospital might suspect you have a subdural haematoma if you've recently injured your head and have some of the main symptoms of a subdural haematoma, such as confusion or a worsening headache.

It will also be helpful to know if you take medication to prevent blood clots, such as warfarin or aspirin, as these can increase your chances of developing a subdural haematoma. If necessary, a blood test can be carried out to assess your blood's ability to clot.

Sometimes you doctor will want to find out if you've previously been diagnosed with another condition that can have similar symptoms to a subdural haematoma, such as dementiaParkinson's disease or a brain tumour, and tests to rule these out may be carried out.

Assessing your symptoms

You will be examined to see if you have any physical signs of an injury to your head, such as cuts and bruises. Tests to check how your pupils react to light will be used to check for signs of a brain injury.

A scale called the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) will also normally be used to check your level of consciousness and help determine the severity of any brain injury. The GCS scores you on:

  • your verbal responses – whether you can speak appropriately or make any sounds at all
  • your motor response – whether you can move voluntarily or in response to stimulation
  • whether you can open your eyes

If your GCS score suggests there may be a problem with your brain, a brain scan will be carried out.

Brain scans

Most people with a suspected subdural haematoma will have a type of brain scan called a computerised tomography (CT) scan to confirm the diagnosis.

A CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of your body. It can show whether any blood has collected between your skull and brain.

In a few cases, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be used to check for a subdural haematoma instead. This is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.

Page last reviewed: 15/06/2015

Next review due: 30/11/2017