Researchers observe progression of traumatic brain injuries

According to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2.4 million people in the U.S. visited emergency rooms, were hospitalized or even died in 2009 due to traumatic brain injuries. Indeed, these injuries occur every day in the U.S., most often from falls and motor vehicle accidents. In most cases, a TBI may not seem bad initially, but can lead to serious problems later on.

Recently, doctors were able to observe for the first time irregular brain activity in the 24 hours following concussive injuries. Knowledge of how these sorts of mild TBIs progress may help researchers understand how best to diagnose and treat patients in the critical hours immediately following an injury.

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin, in collaboration with colleagues at research institutions across the country, conducted a study of 12 high school athletes who suffered concussions on the field. The patients were examined 13 hours after injury and again after seven weeks.

The results of the study, which were published in the most recent issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, indicated that those patients who had suffered concussions displayed reduced cognitive abilities and reaction time. MRI scans showed that certain regions of the brain were less active than normal, which may indicate that concussion patients suffer cognitive difficulties due to damage to neural circuits controlling attention. Surprisingly, after seven weeks, not only had the patients' cognitive abilities improved, but they also showed more activity in their attentional circuits than those in the control group.

The authors of the study believe that this response to injury by the brain may be a recovery mechanism. This is the first time that researchers have been able to observe and document the reversal of brain activity patterns after concussions and how this reversal leads to injury symptoms.

Currently, the art of providing an estimate of when a person will regain full function after suffering a concussion is difficult and inexact. In many cases, this can make the recovery process frustrating for patients, who simply wish to return to their normal way of life. This study is significant because it provides a roadmap for doctors to follow in determining whether a patient's brain is on the road to recovery. It may even help doctors better tailor treatments to ensure that patients recover both more quickly and more fully after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

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