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Hi-Tech Scan Detects Soldiers' Head Injuries
Date:6/1/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 1 (HealthDay News) -- Using a sophisticated new imaging technique, researchers were able to find previously undetected changes in the brains of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who had been diagnosed with mild brain injuries sustained from blast explosions.

Although emphasizing that the researchers are "absolutely not there yet," Christine Mac Donald, lead author of the study, said that one day this imaging technique "could potentially be utilized to assist a physician in making a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury."

That, in turn, could help guide therapy and decisions about when a soldier should return to duty, added Mac Donald, who is a research instructor in the department of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

But negative scans don't rule out traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a diagnosis. So, for the time being, diagnoses should be made based on a clinical history, including information on loss of consciousness, memory loss, confusion and other symptoms, the researchers said.

The study findings are published in the June 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The collection of this data is a monumental achievement. Working in the chaos of war, the authors have extracted very high quality data from soldiers exposed to [traumatic brain injury] experiences," said Keith A. Young, vice chair for research in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. "It strikes the right note in pointing us to future diagnostic procedures."

Blast-related traumatic brain injuries, which have affected some 320,000 troops, are considered the "signature" injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But there has been some debate over whether some of these milder injuries -- concussions -- that impose no visible damage can actually damage the brain.
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