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Researchers offer hope for something better than ‘time will tell’ for TBI

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1.7 million people each year suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Falls lead the list of common causes of TBI, followed by motor vehicle accidents, struck-by incidents and assaults. Over 50,000 people die each year from traumatic brain injury.

Children under four and adults over 75 make up 40 percent of those diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. But, diagnosis may be one of the biggest hurdles to traumatic brain injury care and rehabilitation. Severe brain trauma can present difficulties with diagnosis if it is accompanied by other life-threatening injuries. Mild traumatic brain injury may go unnoticed until activities that were once easy to do have suddenly become difficult or impossible.

Scientists are currently working to change diagnostic techniques for TBI. As with many medical conditions, early diagnosis and treatment of TBI can lead to better outcomes. High-definition fiber tracking is an MRI-based test that will light up spots within the brain that have suffered damage after head trauma and is currently being currently tested as a TBI diagnosis tool. Essentially the test will light up what were once invisible wounds within the brain itself.

Finally being able to detect damaged brain cells may lead to explanations for memory loss and mood changes experienced after a concussion that yields no damage on a CT scan. Standard scans are somewhat limited to detecting bleeding and swelling rather than determining how the brain’s wiring was affected by a head injury.

One of the first subjects of the new brain injury testing device was seriously injured in an ATV crash. He spent three weeks in a coma. Using classic testing methods including regular CT scans and MRIs, doctors were unable to determine whether he’d wake up from the coma. The tests revealed only minimal swelling and bruising.

The high-definition fiber tracking test found breaks in the nerves that controlled his legs, arms and hand. When he did awake from the coma, he was unable to move his left hand, arm or leg; the test had correctly predicted his injuries. It is hoped that understanding precisely how the brain is affected after head injury will improve the lives of those who suffer a TBI.

Source: Air Force Times, “Researchers test new tool for identifying TBI,” Lauran Neergaard, March 2, 2012

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