Psychiatrists at the University of Iowa Health Care recently completed a study based on the observation of soldiers who had recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with mild brain injuries. Ultimately, the study showed that these soldiers possessed “abnormalities in the white matter of their brains”, according to a report by Psych Central. Known more conveniently as “potholes”, these abnormalities appear more in people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries than those who have not experienced any head trauma, and they may help medical experts better diagnose TBI.
“In the military population we studied, patients with TBI have more alterations, sometimes called ‘potholes,’ in the white matter of their brains than patients without a history of TBI,” said senior study author Ricardo Jorge, M.D., UI professor of psychiatry.
“The more severe the injury, the more white matter abnormalities occur. There is also a correlation between increased numbers of potholes and increased severity of cognitive alterations in executive functions — the ability to make a plan or a decision, for example.”
In all, this study focused on 72 military veterans who had suffered TBI in the line of duty and an additional 21 veterans who had not, as the team of scientists and physicians used a process known as Diffusion Tensor Imaging to examine the differences in potholes. Essentially, the greater number of potholes in a patient’s brain means the greater chance that the patient will have a poor response to cognitive testing and decision-making.
This specific study is basically a first step for the University of Iowa team in determining whether or not the DTI process could eventually become a valid way to measure the significance of brain damage in victims of mild brain injuries. Dr. Jorge and his team wrote that they feel confident with their findings thus far, but they believe that a larger focus group is necessary to truly determine the potential success of DTI.
“To establish if this DTI approach is a useful technique for diagnosing mild TBI, we need to replicate these findings in a larger study and with patients who have mild TBI from other causes,” he said.