There has been a lot of attention focused on brain injuries recently. We are finding out more and more every day that minor hits to the head can lead to ongoing issues with cognitive abilities.
It’s been over 18 months since I experienced my brain injury due to extra pontine myelinolysis. It was very shortly after the injury occurred that the MRI images stopped showing the lesions that were originally there, but I continued to experience deficits.
Initially, I had an abnormal EEG, but subsequent EEG’s done 8 to 12 weeks later showed normal.
What does it mean when your images show everything has returned to normal, but you are still experiencing issues? Trust me, I had a doctor tell me that because my tests were now normal that my symptoms were not being caused by the brain injury.
This leaves you in a position of not knowing, and this lack of evidence in current medical imaging/testing is what so many people with brain injuries face. Whether you were injured after a roadside bomb in Iraq, had minor or major concussions after playing in sports, hit your head after falling off your bike, or suffered from an internal injury like stroke or CPM/EPM, you may experience symptoms long after your injury. In some cases, your symptoms may become progressively worse, but the images don’t show any injury at all. Doctors rely so heavily on what the tests say vs what the patient says that you may face a doctor telling you that there is nothing wrong with you, and that is beyond frustrating and depressing.
This is what has caught headlines as more NFL players are ending their lives over their ongoing decline in cognitive abilities. They have gone through testing, MRI, neuropsychological exams, EEG’s, CT’s, etc and the tests showed that they were normal.
It is the frustration that millions of people face each year as they struggle to find answers and more importantly find help.
The most fantastic news that I have is that technology is starting to advance to the point that doctors can finally start to identify injuries that weren’t detectable by any other methods. This is such a relief to those of us who live with the consequences of brain injury. It is so unfortunate that so many doctors need to have this “physical” evidence instead of trying to help a person deal with the outcome of their injury. In other words, would some of those NFL players that took their lives still be alive today if a doctor told them, “no matter what the tests say, you have an injury and let’s work to fix it” ? If they got treatment based on the symptoms that they experienced instead of being prescribed anti-depressants and anti anxiety medications, would they be here now? It’s a tough question to answer, but the loss of their lives had a purpose. It has brought awareness and funding to support brain injury research.
The purpose of this post is to bring to light some of the most current research on brain injuries. What are the new tests being done? Where are they being done? Will they help you?
One type of injury that we tend to not discuss often is “chemo brain”. Chemo brain is a term used to describe people who have undergone chemotherapy and experienced cognitive issues, especially with concentration and memory. Doctors have dismissed those symptoms as being depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. They did not believe that they were caused by a physical condition. However, in December of 2012, several research studies using fMRI, PET and other scans, showed evidence that chemo brain is real.
Often, cognitive complaints were associated with persistent fatigue and depressive symptoms, making it challenging to sort out whether or not the complaints of poor memory, attention, and difficulties with multitasking were related to brain dysfunction or were merely a manifestation of an uncontrolled mood disorder.4–6 Many who complained were younger patients with breast cancer who had become menopausal prematurely with chemotherapy, and their experiences of vasomotor symptoms, nighttime awakening, and poor sleep might have explained some of their cognitive complaints.7
The study goes on to explain the reasons behind why chemo brain (and in my opinion other brain injuries tend to progress). As I have mentioned prior in my blog and this research paper goes on to suggest, there seems to be an autoimmune response that causes ongoing inflammation and injury to the brain.
Concurrently, an increased understanding of immunology and mind-body interactions (psychoneuroimmunology) has made us more aware that events in the body (tissue trauma and inflammation from surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and biologic and targeted therapies) can trigger systemic inflammation with secondary effects on the CNS.21,22In parallel, stress and cognitive threats can have direct effects on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system, leading to systemic responses that can affect the immune system.23 In addition, immune cells, responding to inflammation can traverse the blood-brain barrier and increase local inflammation in the brain, affecting emotional and cognitive function without the need for direct diffusion of chemotherapy into the brain substance.23–25
The technology used to determine differences in the white matter between the control group and those treated with chemotherapy was called magnetic resonance imaging diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). The women that they tested showed decreased testing ability in memory, concentration/ attention.
Finally, the DTI detected decreased white matter integrity in tracts involved in cognition in the women treated with chemotherapy with no changes observed in the two control groups; this suggests a causal relationship between the chemotherapy exposure, cognitive complaints, NP test abnormalities, and white matter changes.
PET scans are also being used to detect chem brain. When I hear accounts of chemo brain, the symptoms they mention are identical to those that I experience. It is so frustrating to have doctors tell me that this is not real, and I know that this is the same frustration experienced by so many of us who are suffering from brain injuries of all varieties. It brings me some relief to know that more research is being done, and technology is starting to show the causes of what we experience. I recommend the following link to learn about PET scans in the use of diagnosing chemo brain: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/12/28/168141465/another-side-effect-of-chemotherapy-chemo-brain
A friend posted these links about newer imaging used to diagnose brain injuries. I haven’t researched all of these as it takes a significant time for me to read through information, but I really want to get this information out there.
MEG Scan – detects errant electrical activity in the brain. Used in conjunction with FMRI and EEG.
Diffusion Tensor Imaging (used above to diagnose chemo brain):
Problems in the white matter—for example, nerve fibers that are not bundled together coherently or that have lost their fatty “myelin” coating—show up in DTI scans but not in regular MRI scans.
Huang says he hopes to eventually incorporate a third imaging technique, chemical shift imaging (CSI), also called MR spectroscopy imaging. This method reveals the distribution of certain chemicals in the brain—another potential marker for subtle brain injury. http://www.research.va.gov/news/research_highlights/brain-injury-090808.cfm
MRI Neurography – Shows nerves. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_resonance_neurography
Magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) is the direct imaging of nerves in the body by optimizing selectivity for unique MRI water properties of nerves. It is a modification of magnetic resonance imaging. This technique yields a detailed image of a nerve from the resonance signal that arises from in the nerve itself rather than from surrounding tissues or from fat in the nerve lining. Because of the intraneural source of the image signal, the image provides a medically useful set of information about the internal state of the nerve such as the presence of irritation, nerve swelling (edema), compression, pinch or injury. Standard magnetic resonance images can show the outline of some nerves in portions of their courses but do not show the intrinsic signal from nerve water. Magnetic resonance neurography is used to evaluate major nerve compressions such as those affecting the sciatic nerve (e.g. piriformis syndrome), the brachial plexus nerves (e.g. thoracic outlet syndrome), the pudendal nerve, or virtually any named nerve in the body.
There is also a new one called high definition fiber tracking. http://schneiderlab.lrdc.pitt.edu/projects/hdft
Finally, there is Tau imaging: http://www.sbir.gov/sbirsearch/detail/102432
I will try to add and complete more of this post as I research further and learn more about the different types of imaging, but it is exciting work for those of us suffering from brain injury. Hope is on the horizon for getting answers and evidence for why we continue to experience the symptoms that we do.
- The Brain Store (themriproject.com)
- First Imaging Study Of Concussion-Related Abnormal Brain Proteins In Retired NFL Players (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Scientists Find Evidence For “Chemo Brain” In Scans (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Head Injuries Can Lead to Serious Vision Problems (everydayhealth.com)
- Canadian study of EEG test for awareness in vegetative patients called flawed (macleans.ca)
- Concussion-related brain disease found in living athletes (metronews.ca)
- MRIs reveal signs of brain injuries not seen in CT scans (sciencedaily.com)