Your Guide to Incidental Findings on Head CTs

Head CT scans are useful tools for lots of different scenarios. If you've recently suffered trauma to your head, it allows your neurosurgeon to identify brain bleeds. Also, it can help them diagnose different types of strokes, tumours and even the progression of dementia.

Sometimes, your medical team may see something on the scan that they weren't expecting. When this happens, they may refer to it as an incidental finding. If this scenario is new to you, it might help to learn more about what to expect.

What does incidental finding mean?

An incidental finding is a medical issue that your neurosurgeon may spot when performing a scan for another reason. For example, they may request a head CT to look for the signs of a stroke and find a tumour there. When they make such discoveries, your doctors need to look into the incidental finding and whether it is likely to have an impact on your life.

Do incidental findings always mean something?

It isn't always the case that an incidental finding is a problem. For example, your doctor may notice signs that you've suffered from a stroke in the past and you are now past the point of displaying symptoms. Or, they may discover a benign tumour that won't grow and impact your brain. Depending on what they find, they may ask you to return to them periodically for monitoring just for safety's sake. If what they discover is causing you anxiety, though, you should ask them for more information on how to settle your worries.

What if the finding could cause problems?

There may be times when your doctor finds a pathology that is likely to get worse or that could be causing your symptoms. In some cases, they can treat the initial issue they were searching for while also tackling your incidental finding. In other cases, they may need to prioritise one pathology over another. Whether they choose to do this can depend on the severity of the issues, the likelihood that the drugs will affect each other and the ability of the patient—you—to withstand multiple treatments. In all cases, they'll explain your options thoroughly and gain your consent before proceeding with a particular treatment route.

If your neurosurgeon discovers something they weren't expecting, they'll always take the incidental finding seriously. It's natural to have concerns, even when the finding isn't producing symptoms. Make sure you ask your surgeon questions about those concerns so that you can settle your anxieties.

To learn more, contact a neurosurgeon.