Traumatic brain injury seen in "healthy" soldiers, thanks to high-tech scans

Caption: In a March 25, 2011 photo, Dr. Andrew Fong, chief of radiology at Fort Campbell, Ky., describes a brain imaging procedure used to evaluate patients with traumatic brain injuries. The Army is using a brain scan commonly used to study dementia to find subtle changes in blood flow in the brains of soldiers who suffer war-time brain injuries Doctors at Fort Campbell in Kentucky have been using the scan for less than a year to help in treatment of wounded soldiers and study the effects of blast injuries. AP Photo/Kristin M. Hall

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(CBS/AP) An experimental high-tech brain scan is finding previously undetected traumatic brain injury in servicemen who sustain concussions in combat.

The research is considered a first step toward a better understanding of what happens in the brain after bomb blasts 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 the June 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Blast-related traumatic brain injuries have affected about 320,000 U.S. troops and are considered the "signature" injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, HealthDay reported. But because concussions alone cause no visible damage, experts have debated whether they actually damaged the brain.

The new "diffusion tensor imaging" scans seem to suggest that concussions can affect the "wiring" that connects parts of the brain. It's unclear what the new finding suggests for treatment, Brody said. Scientists are 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.

Little can be done to reverse the initial brain damage that results from traumatic brain injury, which can cause changes in mood, behavior. But patients can often be helped with physical and occupational therapy and other forms of treatment.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on traumatic brain injury.

  • David W Freeman

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