New Imaging Identifies Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Nancy Harris Bonk Health Guide
  • If you have suffered a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), you know it's a serious traumatic event. More than a million people have had a traumatic brain injury, and as many as 75% of these people experience a mild traumatic brain injury every year. Concussed people endure lifelong effects of MTBI, having permanent mental and physical deficits such as chronic pain, dizziness, memory loss. and cognitive issues. to name a few. Ongoing debates continue regarding concussion: Is there actual structural injury to brain tissue after the concussion, or do physiological changes to the brain affect the way damaged cells work, thus explaining the deficits that are seen after the injury? A new form of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) may help answer some of these questions.

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    A study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University showed researchers were able see the injured area of the concussed brain, mainly the prefrontal cortex, using DTI, an MRI-like imaging machine. DTI measures slight changes in the brain by measuring the diffusion of water in the brain's white matter.

    In the study, DTI showed abnormal brain areas in 15 out of 20 patients who suffered a concussion with loss consciousness (two minutes or less) from motor vehicle accidents or falls. The control group had no changes and went through the same testing and imaging the target group did. The area, the prefrontal cortex - is necessary for executive function - involves making decisions, organizing, multi-tasking, setting priorities and time keeping. It is also the area most likely to be affected by an injury from a concussion.

    This study is important for a few reasons, says Dr. Michael Lipton. He hopes using DTI may lead to early treatment, reducing the impairment in one's life of concussion and evaluating current treatments to see how effective they are. He noted,

    "The problems in functioning caused by concussions often don't become evident until weeks or months after the injury, suggesting that the brain pathology may actually expand over time... By detecting brain injury early with DTI and then initiating cognitive rehabilitation therapies for those patients, we may be able to limit the effects of concussions."1

      Distinct changes can occur in people who are living with MTBI. Some of these may include personality changes, inability to plan events or organize, lack of motivation, fatigue, lingering head pain, memory loss, and dizziness. These changes can vary greatly from person to person. If you've fallen, been in a motor vehicle, accident, or hit your head, please contact your doctor. Continue reading this article for more information: The Significance of a Bump on the Head.

      To see a video on this topic, click the image below.
      Michael Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., discusses concussions and the new application of an imaging technique to speed their diagnosis. Dr. Lipton is associate professor of radiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

      Video by: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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      1 Press release. "Strong link found between concussions and brain tissue injury." Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Bronx, NY. August 24, 2009.  

      2 Shapiro, Lynn. "Diffusion Tensor Imaging Finds Brain Damage Other Tests Miss."  DOTmedNews. September 1, 2009.

      3 Science Section. "Strong Link Found Between Concussions and Brain Tissue Injury." ScienceDaily. August 25, 2009.

      © Nancy H. Bonk

       Last updated October 22, 2009

    Published On: October 22, 2009