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Broken Elbow (cont.)

Broken Elbow Diagnosis

The doctor may perform the following procedures in evaluating a patient for a broken elbow.

  • The doctor will generally want to know the patient's overall health history. The doctor may ask questions about past surgeries, medical illnesses and medications.
  • The doctor also may ask several specific questions about the injury as follows:
    • What caused your injury?
    • When did the injury occur?
    • When did symptoms begin?
    • What are the major symptoms? For example, only pain, or pain and swelling, or swelling and discoloration, lack of mobility and others?
  • The doctor will perform a physical examination, paying particular attention to the injured arm.
    • The doctor will probably check the patient's heart, lungs, and abdomen.
    • The doctor may also check the patient's head, neck, back, and uninjured arms and legs.
    • Most of this examination is to make sure that no other, more serious, injuries or conditions exist. Sometimes people in a great deal of pain from a broken elbow do not even notice that they have other injuries.
  • The doctor may order X-rays. Elbow X-rays are taken from the front and side. Additional X-rays, taken at two different angles, may also be done. Depending on the patient's unique health history and their treatment needs, the doctor may order additional laboratory tests.
    • Sometimes elbow injuries cause so much pain that a full examination is impossible. If this is the case, the doctor first may choose to simply look at the elbow without moving it or touching it.
    • The doctor may examine the hand and wrist to make sure that blood vessels and nerves are working properly.
    • In children, the doctor may take X-rays of the uninjured elbow. Children's elbows are not completely formed so growing cartilage, which later forms bone, may be mistaken for a broken bone. Comparing X-rays of injured and uninjured elbows may help the doctor make a correct diagnosis.
    • Other tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI may provide a more complete look at the injured elbow.
  • Laboratory tests generally aren't needed for people with broken elbows. If the patient is taking certain medications, have certain health conditions, or requires an operation to repair the broken elbow, additional lab tests may be ordered.
  • If the doctor is concerned that the artery that runs by the elbow has been cut, an arteriogram may be recommended.
    • In this test, the doctor puts dye into the artery to see if it is damaged.
    • A damaged artery may need to be surgically repaired because it supplies all the blood to the wrist and hand.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2015

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Broken Elbow - Followup

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Broken Elbow - Causes

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