Accurately recognizing concussions can become a reality if clinicians begin using an advanced form of ultrasound that maps blood flow in the brain, new research suggests.

“There is growing evidence that concussions can change the blood flow in the brain,” study author Robert Hamilton, PhD, co-founder of Neural Analytics in Los Angeles, California, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a statement. “While such changes may be detected with MRI, we believe there may be a less expensive and portable way to measure these changes with a transcranial Doppler (TCD) device.”

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In the United States alone, more than one million athletes experience a concussion each year.

Presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting, which is being held in Vancouver, Canada, the study’s findings revealed that the advanced version of TCD ultrasound was able to differentiate between healthy and concussed athletes 86% of the time.

Comparing a group of 66 high school athletes in contact sports who had been recently diagnosed with a concussion to a control group of 169 high school student athletes from both contact and non-contact sports, the investigators used an advanced version of TCD ultrasound, in the hopes of getting a more complete picture of how blood moves through the middle cerebral artery.

Researchers measured the brain blood flow in each of the concussed athletes within an average of 6 days after injury. Investigators also conducted general concussion evaluations and checked blood pressures.

Traditional TCD ultrasound measures such as change in cerebral blood flow reactivity differentiated between healthy and concussed athletes 60% of the time, average blood flow speed differentiated 55% of the time, and blood flow resistance differentiated 53% of the time.

“This research suggests that this advanced form of ultrasound may provide a more accurate diagnosis of concussion,” said Hamilton. “While more research is needed, the hope is such a tool could one day be used on the sidelines to help determine more quickly whether an athlete needs further testing.”

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation supported the foundation.