Servicemen who suffer concussions from wartime explosions struggle with symptoms even though brain scans generally show no damage. Now a specialized type of scan has spotted brain abnormalities in some of these patients.
The new work is a first step toward better understanding what happens in the brain and what might be done about it, said Dr. David Brody of Washington University in St. Louis. He's senior author of the study in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The abnormalities appeared in just 18 of 63 patients from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, so those physical signs alone can't be used to diagnose concussion, Brody said. They imply damage to the "wiring" that connects parts of the brain, and it's not yet clear what if anything the new finding suggests for treatment, he said. Researchers are now studying whether they reveal anything about a patient's future course, such as the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The scans were done by adding software to an ordinary MRI machine.
The results suggest doctors may someday be able to use objective markers to help make a concussion diagnosis, said Katherine Helmick, deputy director for traumatic brain injury at the federally funded Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.