A new study published in the journal Radiology suggests undergoing brain imaging soon after experiencing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can improve treatment and diagnosis for military service members.
The study found that MRI scans can help doctors identify microbleeding in the brain in the time immediately following a brain injury, which can sometimes trigger secondary health conditions, such as brain swelling.
However, when identified early, medical professionals can attempt to prevent the damaging wave of “secondary injury” that can follow TBI.
“TBI is a large problem for our military service members and their families,” said study leader Dr. Gerard Riedy, chief of neuroimaging at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“We found that many of those who have served and suffered this type of injury were not imaged until many, many months after injury occurred, thus resulting in lower rates of cerebral microhemorrhage detection, which delays treatment,” he added in a news release from the Radiological Society of North America.
For the study, the researchers used advanced MRI scans to evaluate 603 military personnel diagnosed with TBI. The median time between injury and undergoing brain scans was 856 days. The patients were split into two categories based on time between injury and brain scans. One group included those who were injured within three months, and the other group included those who experienced injury at least three months to over a year before undergoing MRI.
Out of the 603 military service members who were involved in the story, 7 percent were identified to have at least one occurrence of microbleeding in the brain. However, those who underwent brain imaging over a year after their injury showed a much lower rate of brain microbleeding compared to those scanned within 12 months of an injury.
Among those who had an MRI within three months of injury, 24 percent were found to have microbleeding in the brain. In comparison, only 5.2 percent of participants imaged a year after injury showed brain bleeding.
The researchers say bleeding becomes more difficult to identify over time as changes occur in iron deposits in the brain, meaning it is best to undergo imaging sooner rather than later following a brain injury.
“Early characterization of cerebral microhemorrhages may help to explain clinical symptoms of acute TBI and identify the severity of brain damage,” Riedy said. “We believe that having access to MRI in the field would facilitate early detection of TBI, thus providing timely treatment.”