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Ultrasound headset could help diagnose concussion in athletes

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An advanced form of ultrasound could help recognise sports concussions on the sidelines, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology´s annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

Researchers found that an ultrasound headset was able to identify concussed athletes in more than eight out of ten cases.

“There is growing evidence that concussions can change the blood flow in the brain,” said study author Robert Hamilton, co-founder of Neural Analytics in Los Angeles, California, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “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.”

TCD uses ultrasound to map blood flow activity in the brain. According to the American Academy of Neurology, it measures variables like the speed and variability (pulse) of blood flowing through the arteries, but until now those measurements haven´t been enough to accurately detect concussion.

For the study, researchers used an advanced version of TCD ultrasound to get a more complete picture of how the blood moves through the middle cerebral artery, one of the three major arteries in the brain.

Taking part in the study were 66 high school athletes in contact sports who had been recently diagnosed with a concussion, as well as a control group of 169 high school student athletes from both contact and non-contact sports.

Each of the concussed athletes had their brain blood flow measured with the advanced ultrasound headset within an average of six days after the injury. They were also given a general concussion evaluation and had their blood pressure checked.

The study found that the advanced version of TCD ultrasound differentiated between healthy and concussed athletes 83% of the time. In contrast, traditional TCD ultrasound measurements like change in cerebral blood flow reactivity differentiated between the two 60% of the time, while 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,” Hamilton said. “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.”