Health Watch — Head Injuries: Detecting Injury

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This week on Health Watch, we’re talking about treating and preventing head injuries that can have a lasting impact. In some cases, detecting the damage can be a real challenge. One of the most common kinds of brain injury in motor vehicle accidents is diffuse axonal injury, or DAI. It happens when the head suddenly stops moving and the force shears nerve cells. But standard scanning techniques don’t show this kind of injury.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a way to analyze data from MRI scans to detect injury. Damaged axons – the long tendrils of nerve cells — swell and absorb the water around them, then release the water when they die. By analyzing the change in water motion in the brain over time, doctors can detect DAI. Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, the UT Southwestern neurologist who led the study, says this is important because seatbelts and air bags don’t prevent this kind of injury, and it may account for up to half of all brain injuries from motor vehicle accidents.

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July 2008

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