A Common, but Serious, Injury
The most common diagnosis for a traumatic brain injury is a concussion, and though it is classified as a "mild" brain injury, its effects can be very serious. Its symptoms, ranging from headaches to loss of consciousness, normally manifest immediately, but often, these could take hours or even days before they appear.
A recent study presented at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 68th Annual Meeting showed that an advanced headset could possibly help in the detection of concussions faster and cheaper than current methods.
The co-author of the research, Dr. Robert Hamilton, PhD, along with his colleagues, used an advanced transcranial Doppler (TCD) headset for the tests. TCD is a technique that can measure the brain's blood flow using ultrasound.
Conventionally, TCD devices measure the speed and irregularities of blood flow through arteries in the brain. An advanced TCD device, such as the headset used by Dr Hamilton, could provide a clearer view of blood flow.
Testing on Athletes
Athletes are prone to concussions, especially those who play contact sports. It is reported that more than 1 million athletes in the US are diagnosed with a concussion yearly.
Using both advanced and conventional TCD devices, the researchers tested 235 high school athletes for an average of 6 days.
The test involved 66 athletes who played contact sports and had recently been diagnosed with concussion, using as a control group 169 athletes, who played either contact or non-contact sports, and were not concussed. The advanced TCD headset proved to be accurate by 83% in distinguishing concussed from non-concussed athletes, while the conventional TCD device had only 53-60% accuracy.
According to Hamilton, the tool could one day be used on the sidelines for faster diagnosis of brain injuries among athletes, but it still requires further research and testing.
Currently, clinical tests for brain injuries are done using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI machines are large and expensive to operate due to the complexity of the technology; but the new TCD headset would mean getting comparable diagnostic technology where and when it's needed, with a minimum of expense and training.