Almost 1.7 million Americans seek medical attention every year for acute head injuries, but many that show up at the emergency room are treated and sent home. One in six patients, however, will develop long-term disabilities, and it’s difficult to assess which patients are at greater risk for persistent injuries. According to Science Daily, although CT scans have long been the standard technique for evaluating traumatic brain injuries, a new study reveals thatMRIs may be better at predicting long-term outcomes.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center followed 135 people treated for mild traumatic brain injuries over the past two years. The patients were treated at one of three urban hospitals with level-one trauma centers, and each received CT scans when they were first admitted, followed by MRIs given about a week later.
Results from the CT scan showed that 99 percent of the patients had no detectable sign of injury. However, after the MRIs, almost 25 percent of the patients who had a “normal” scan had detectable spots on the scan. These “focal lesions” are signs of microscopic bleeding in the brain and help doctors predict whether the patient is likely to suffer persistent neurological problems.
Geoff Manley, the chief of neurosurgery at SFGH explained how the work makes doctors and surgeons question the use of CT scans since “having a normal CT scan doesn’t, in fact, say you’re normal.” He notes that the new work is an important step towards developing more precision medical tools to detect, monitor and treat people with traumatic brain injury.
As concern for traumatic brain injury in the NFL continues to rise, football players who have suffered concussions and spinal injuries are being monitored with MRIs. Jameel McClain, the Baltimore Ravens starting linebacker recently suffered a spinal cord contusion and will likely undergo MRIs at regular intervals over the coming weeks and months. This could help keep players off the field until they are healed and help reduce further injury.
MRIs have the ability to show soft tissue detail and can help doctors assess which patients are at a greater risk for long-term disability. Manley notes that the study will help identify patients who are at risk of persistent consequences associated with traumatic brain injury. Despite this finding, lack of consensus on how to treat mild traumatic brain injuries remains an issue: “The treatment’s all over the place – if you’re getting treatment at all.”