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New tool may help diagnose and treat brain injuries earlier

Although medical researchers have made many advances in brain injury testing and treatment in recent years, there is still a great deal that is not known about the brain and how it is affected by trauma. For many patients, doctors are unable to determine whether a brain injury will cause lasting harm, leaving few options other than 'wait and see.'

However, scientists are currently testing a new diagnostic tool that will identify brain injuries early and, more importantly, help doctors determine their severity. Much like an X-ray or MRI machine, the test will light up the breaks in the brain's wiring, allowing doctors to see how severe the injury was and to determine the brain damage that a patient has accumulated through multiple blows to the head.

It is estimated that about 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury in the United States every year. The majority of these are mild injuries, such as concussions, that generally heal on their own. However, if these minor injuries occur with frequency, as in the case of football players or members of the military, they can lead to lasting brain damage.

Current testing methods often cannot see past swelling or bleeding in the brain to determine whether the brain has suffered breaks that it cannot repair on its own. Even patients who appear normal following a brain injury can later suffer severe effects such as memory loss, mood changes, disability or death.

It will likely be some time before such a test becomes available to the general public. However, it is promising that researchers are making progress toward better testing and treatment of brain injuries.

Source: Air Force News, "Researchers test new tool for identifying TBI," Lauren Neergaard, Mar. 2, 2012

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