Scientists and medical researchers have long pursued better diagnostic tools for traumatic brain injuries. Now, new medical devices are making it easier to detect and treat the brain injuries suffered by about 1.5 million Americans each year.
TBI victims are often military personnel and athletes, but can also be people who have been in car accidents or suffered falls or assaults. According to some estimates, over a hundred thousand veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with TBIs. Many are undiagnosed. Athletes of all ages suffer from concussions on the field. When undiagnosed and untreated, these athletes are at a much higher risk to sustain additional concussions.
Detecting TBI can be difficult. External observation yields few clues unless the victim loses consciousness. A primitive diagnostic tool known as the "drunk test" involves looking for slow reaction speed and poor coordination in athletes with recent concussions. Sophisticated diagnostic tools like CT scans and MRIs may pick up swelling, but they can be expensive and unreliable.
The consequences of poor diagnosis are apparent in news stories of former pro football players who continue to suffer from the effects of TBI long after the initial injury. Health consequences depend on how early a correct diagnosis is made, especially in life-threatening cases of hematoma, or bleeding inside the brain.
The next post will further discuss this issue and the new technologies.
Source: ProPublica, "New Technologies in the Works to Detect Brain Injuries," Lena Groeger, Jan. 5, 2012
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