Ultrasound technology may help pitchside concussion diagnosis

Written by Alice Weatherston

Research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting (15 – 21st April, Vancouver, Canada) has profiled a new technology utilizing ultrasound to map blood flow within the brains of athletes to ultimately diagnose concussions more accurately.
“There is growing evidence that concussions can change the blood flow in the brain. 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,” explained study author Robert Hamilton (Neural Analytics, CA, USA).

TCD is traditionally used to measure variables such as the speed and pulse of blood flow through arteries; however until recently these measures have not been sufficient to accurately detect concussion.

In the current study, the research team utilized an advanced version of TCD ultrasound to form a more complete story of how the blood moves through the middle cerebral artery. The study participants were made up of 66 high school athletes who had recently been diagnosed with a concussion, compared to a control group of 169 high school student athletes from both contact and non-contact sports. Control and concussion groups were both approximately 30% female.

All participants in the recently concussed group underwent brain blood flow measurements using the advanced ultrasound headset as well as general clinical concussion evaluations and blood pressure checks within, on average, 6 days following the injury.

Results indicated that the advanced TCD ultrasound was successfully able to differentiate between the healthy and concussed athletes in 83% of cases. Traditional TCD ultrasound measurements such as changes in cerebral blood flow reactivity, average blood flow speed and blood flow resistance, were only able to differentiate between the groups 60%, 55% and 53% of the time, respectively.

“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,” commented Hamilton.

Concussion expert Jeffrey Kutcher (The Sports Neurology Clinic, MI, USA), remarked: “The potential of having an accessible technology that detects a physiological change following brain trauma is very exciting. However, what these detected blood flow changes mean to a patient’s clinical care is still unclear.”

Source: American Academy of Neurology press release