Patients who are brain-injured and unresponsive may appear unconscious, but a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine repurposed a widely-used technology to demonstrate that the brains of some of these patients are still active.
The researchers used electroencephalography or EEG to look for signs of brain activity in a group of brain-injured patients, finding that 15% of those studied had residual activity despite being unable to speak or move.
EEG is already used to diagnose epilepsy and other brain disorders, but this study shows that EEG recordings can be used to detect what some researchers call "preserved consciousness" in some unresponsive patients with a severe brain injury. This method might make it easier for doctors to predict whether a brain-injured patient will wake up from a coma and might help inform decisions related to withdrawal of life-support.
"I think this is a landmark study with the potential to impact clinical practice." says Dr. Brian Edlow, director of the Laboratory for NeuroImaging of Coma and Consciousness at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved with this research. "Because EEG can be performed at the bedside, I think it has the potential to be generalized in ICUs around the world."
An interesting development, and one which will hopefully help families make better decisions about loved ones with traumatic brain injuries.