Concussions go undiagnosed every day, and yet they can result in serious and permanent brain injury. After a concussion some patients lose consciousness, but others go without symptoms for days or even weeks. Every brain injury is different, and as a result many concussions go unnoticed.
The signs of a concussion can be so subtle that you, your family and even your doctor can miss them. This can be dangerous, because in some cases blood clots can form in the brain. Signs of a blood clot can include headaches that become increasingly worse, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination, and repeated vomiting.
In some cases undiagnosed concussions can lead to mental disorders like depression and anxiety. “These secondary complications, like anxiety disorders or a new phobia of tests, memory problems, depression, apathy, inattention and other behaviors are indelible and can be difficult to treat. It’s not something the [patient] can control or work harder to ‘fix’ because it’s the result of an injured brain. Only a [neuropsychologist or doctor] trained in the treatment of concussion or traumatic brain injury can do a thorough assessment for a severe brain injury,” according to Frederick Nahm, MD, PhD, head of the Stroke Center at Greenwich Hospital.
That is why the new eye-tracking method of detecting concussions is so revolutionary and its discovery so important. Researchers report that the simple approach can be used by emergency departments, and perhaps eventually at the sidelines of sporting events. Concussions are incredibly common among athletes.
“Concussion is a condition that has been plagued by the lack of an objective diagnostic tool, which in turn has helped drive confusion and fears among those affected and their families,” said lead investigator Dr. Uzma Samadani, assistant professor in the departments of neurosurgery, neuroscience and physiology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
Researchers believe that up to 90% of patients with concussions have eye movement problems. However, the current method of assessing eye movement issues is to ask the patient to follow the doctor’s finger.
The new method was tested by Samadani and her colleagues to assess eye movement in U.S. military personal who were believed to have concussions or brain injuries. Researchers compared 75 trauma patients and a control group of 64 healthy people. Patient’s eye movements were tracked as they watched a music video for a few minutes. They believe that this new technique may help better diagnose concussion severity, enable testing of diagnostics and therapeutics, and help assess recovery, such as when a patient can safely return to activity following a head injury.
The study found that the more severe the concussion, the worse a patient’s eye movement problems were. Results were published in the Journal of Neurotrauma on January 29th.
“Since concussion can occur without loss of consciousness, this can be particularly important in sideline evaluations in athletics or in military settings where individuals are highly motivated to return to activity and may minimize their symptoms. More work is needed to establish its sensitivity and specificity, but it is very promising,” said Dr. M. Sean Grady, chair of the neurosurgery department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
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PsychCentral.com: “Untreated Concussions May Lead to Mental Disorders for Some Teens
BrainLine.org: “Facts About Concussion and Brain Injury”
WebMD: “Eye Tracking May Help to Spot Concussions Quickly”
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