New brain injury diagnostic tool shows promise, researchers say

A newly developed diagnostic method could help doctors identify and treat traumatic brain injuries, also known as TBIs, which are notoriously difficult to diagnose using traditional means.

Using a highly sensitive form of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, researchers at the St. Louis University School of Medicine examined military combat veterans who had suffered mild TBIs while on deployment. By studying MRI scans of the soldiers' brains, the researchers were able to detect tiny injuries in a type of brain tissue known as white matter.

Like water through a leaky hose

White matter is made up of nerve fibers called axons, which carry signals through the brain. When those fibers are damaged, it can interfere with the transmission of brain signals through the nerves. One researcher involved in the study compared an injured axon to a damaged garden hose, explaining that the injuries are similar to holes in a hose that allow water to leak out the sides, Medical News Today reported.

In the study, researchers compared brain scans of healthy individuals with those of soldiers who had suffered mild traumatic brain injury while on deployment in Iraq. The researchers found that the scans of soldiers who had suffered TBIs showed more white matter damage than scans of participants who had not been injured. They also found that soldiers with more white matter damage were more likely to report problems with memory, attention span and motor control than healthy test subjects.

Study shows long-term effects

The findings of the study are significant because they demonstrate that the specialized MRI scans can be used to detect evidence of traumatic brain injury, which often cannot be identified using more common diagnostic methods such as standard MRI technology or CT scans. Researchers say their findings also help establish that even relatively mild brain injuries can lead to long-term complications. The participating soldiers had been injured an average of four years prior to the study.

It was once widely believed that brain injuries typically resolved on their own with no lasting ill effects, but in recent years a growing body of research suggests that this belief may be inaccurate. By studying military veterans, professional athletes and other individuals who have been exposed to head trauma, researchers are discovering that the consequences of TBI can be serious and long-lasting, even if the initial injuries appear mild.

Compensation may be available for brain injuries

People who have suffered from TBI due to a car crash, sports accident or any other circumstances may wish to speak with a personal injury lawyer about the possibility of seeking financial compensation for their injuries, medical bills and other related expenses.