Posts Tagged brain

[TED-Ed] The brain-changing benefits of exercise – Wendy Suzuki

What’s the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today? Exercise! says neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. Get inspired to go to the gym as Suzuki discusses the science of how working out boosts your mood and memory — and protects your brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

via The brain-changing benefits of exercise – Wendy Suzuki | TED-Ed

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[Infographic] Music & The Brain

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[NEWS] Novel artificial intelligence algorithm helps detect brain tumor

 

A brain tumor is a mass of abnormal cells that grow in the brain. In 2016 alone, there were 330,000 incident cases of brain cancer and 227,000 related-deaths worldwide. Early detection is crucial to improve patient prognosis, and thanks to a team of researchers, they developed a new imaging technique and artificial intelligence algorithm that can help doctors accurately identify brain tumors.

 

Image Credit: create jobs 51 / Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: create jobs 51 / Shutterstock.com

Published in the journal Nature Medicine, the study reveals a new method that combines modern optical imaging and an artificial intelligence algorithm. The researchers at New York University studied the accuracy of machine learning in producing precise and real-time intraoperative diagnosis of brain tumors.

In the past, the only way to diagnose brain tumors is through hematoxylin and eosin staining of processed tissue in time. Plus, interpretation of the findings relies on pathologists who examine the specimen. The researchers hope the new method will provide a better and more accurate diagnosis, which can help initiate effective treatments right away.

In cancer treatment, the earlier cancer has been diagnosed, the earlier the oncologists can start the treatment. In most cases, early detection improves health outcomes. The researchers have found that their novel method of detection yielded a 94.6 percent accuracy, compared to 93.9 percent for pathology-based interpretation.

The imaging technique

The researchers used a new imaging technique called stimulated Raman histology (SRH), which can reveal tumor infiltration in human tissue. The technique collects scattered laser light and emphasizes features that are not usually seen in many body tissue images.

With the new images, the scientists processed and studied using an artificial intelligence algorithm. Within just two minutes and thirty seconds, the researchers came up with a brain tumor diagnosis. The fast detection of brain cancer can help not only in diagnosing the disease early but also in implementing a fast and effective treatment plan. With cancer caught early, treatments may be more effective in killing cancer cells.

The team also utilized the same technology to accurately identify and remove undetectable tumors that cannot be detected by conventional methods.

“As surgeons, we’re limited to acting on what we can see; this technology allows us to see what would otherwise be invisible, to improve speed and accuracy in the OR, and reduce the risk of misdiagnosis. With this imaging technology, cancer operations are safer and more effective than ever before,” Dr. Daniel A. Orringer, associate professor of Neurosurgery at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, said.

Study results

The study is a walkthrough of various ideas and efforts by the research team. First off, they built the artificial intelligence algorithm by training a deep convolutional neural network (CNN), containing more than 2.5 million samples from 415 patients. The method helped them group and classify tissue samples into 13 categories, representing the most common types of brain tumors, such as meningioma, metastatic tumors, malignant glioma, and lymphoma.

For validation, the researchers recruited 278 patients who are having brain tumor resection or epilepsy surgery at three university medical centers. The tumor samples from the brain were examined and biopsied. The researchers grouped the samples into two groups – control and experimental.

The team assigned the control group to be processed traditionally in a pathology laboratory. The process spans 20 to 30 minutes. On the other hand, the experimental group had been tested and studied intraoperatively, from getting images and processing the examination through CNN.

There were noted errors in both the experimental and control groups but were unique from each other. The new tool can help centers detect and diagnose brain tumors, particularly those without expert neuropathologists.

“SRH will revolutionize the field of neuropathology by improving decision-making during surgery and providing expert-level assessment in the hospitals where trained neuropathologists are not available,” Dr. Matija Snuderl, associate professor in the Department of Pathology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, explained.

Journal references:

Patel, A., Fisher, J, Nichols, E., et al. (2019). Global, regional, and national burden of brain and other CNS cancer, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet Neurology. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(18)30468-X/fulltext#%20

Hollon, T., Pandian, B, Orringer, D. (2019). Near real-time intraoperative brain tumor diagnosis using stimulated Raman histology and deep neural networks. Nature Medicine. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-019-0715-9

 

via Novel artificial intelligence algorithm helps detect brain tumor

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[WEB SITE] Why Your Brain Needs Exercise

Why Your Brain Needs Exercise

Credit: Bryan Christie Design

Why Your Brain Needs Exercise

The evolutionary history of humans explains why physical activity is important for brain health

IN BRIEF

  • It is by now well established that exercise has positive effects on the brain, especially as we age.
  • Less clear has been why physical activity affects the brain in the first place.
  • Key events in the evolutionary history of humans may have forged the link between exercise and brain function.
  • Cognitively challenging exercise may benefit the brain more than physical activity that makes fewer cognitive demands.

 

In the 1990s researchers announced a series of discoveries that would upend a bedrock tenet of neuroscience. For decades the mature brain was understood to be incapable of growing new neurons. Once an individual reached adulthood, the thinking went, the brain began losing neurons rather than gaining them. But evidence was building that the adult brain could, in fact, generate new neurons. In one particularly striking experiment with mice, scientists found that simply running on a wheel led to the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain structure that is associated with memory. Since then, other studies have established that exercise also has positive effects on the brains of humans, especially as we age, and that it may even help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. But the research raised a key question: Why does exercise affect the brain at all?

Physical activity improves the function of many organ systems in the body, but the effects are usually linked to better athletic performance. For example, when you walk or run, your muscles demand more oxygen, and over time your cardiovascular system responds by increasing the size of the heart and building new blood vessels. The cardiovascular changes are primarily a response to the physical challenges of exercise, which can enhance endurance. But what challenge elicits a response from the brain?

Answering this question requires that we rethink our views of exercise. People often consider walking and running to be activities that the body is able to perform on autopilot. But research carried out over the past decade by us and others would indicate that this folk wisdom is wrong. Instead exercise seems to be as much a cognitive activity as a physical one. In fact, this link between physical activity and brain health may trace back millions of years to the origin of hallmark traits of humankind. If we can better understand why and how exercise engages the brain, perhaps we can leverage the relevant physiological pathways to design novel exercise routines that will boost people’s cognition as they age—work that we have begun to undertake.

FLEXING THE BRAIN

To explore why exercise benefits the brain, we need to first consider which aspects of brain structure and cognition seem most responsive to it. When researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., led by Fred Gage and Henriette Van Praag, showed in the 1990s that running increased the birth of new hippocampal neurons in mice, they noted that this process appeared to be tied to the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is produced throughout the body and in the brain, and it promotes both the growth and the survival of nascent neurons. The Salk group and others went on to demonstrate that exercise-induced neurogenesis is associated with improved performance on memory-related tasks in rodents. The results of these studies were striking because atrophy of the hippocampus is widely linked to memory difficulties during healthy human aging and occurs to a greater extent in individuals with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The findings in rodents provided an initial glimpse of how exercise could counter this decline.

Following up on this work in animals, researchers carried out a series of investigations that determined that in humans, just like in rodents, aerobic exercise leads to the production of BDNF and augments the structure—that is, the size and connectivity—of key areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. In a randomized trial conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Kirk Erickson and Arthur Kramer, 12 months of aerobic exercise led to an increase in BDNF levels, an increase in the size of the hippocampus and improvements in memory in older adults.

Other investigators have found associations between exercise and the hippocampus in a variety of observational studies. In our own study of more than 7,000 middle-aged to older adults in the U.K., published in 2019 in Brain Imaging and Behavior, we demonstrated that people who spent more time engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity had larger hippocampal volumes. Although it is not yet possible to say whether these effects in humans are related to neurogenesis or other forms of brain plasticity, such as increasing connections among existing neurons, together the results clearly indicate that exercise can benefit the brain’s hippocampus and its cognitive functions.

Researchers have also documented clear links between aerobic exercise and benefits to other parts of the brain, including expansion of the prefrontal cortex, which sits just behind the forehead. Such augmentation of this region has been tied to sharper executive cognitive functions, which involve aspects of planning, decision-making and multitasking—abilities that, like memory, tend to decline with healthy aging and are further degraded in the presence of Alzheimer’s. Scientists suspect that increased connections between existing neurons, rather than the birth of new neurons, are responsible for the beneficial effects of exercise on the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions outside the hippocampus.

UPRIGHT AND ACTIVE

With mounting evidence that aerobic exercise can boost brain health, especially in older adults, the next step was to figure out exactly what cognitive challenges physical activity poses that trigger this adaptive response. We began to think that examining the evolutionary relation between the brain and the body might be a good place to start. Hominins (the group that includes modern humans and our close extinct relatives) split from the lineage leading to our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, between six million and seven million years ago. In that time, hominins evolved a number of anatomical and behavioral adaptations that distinguish us from other primates. We think two of these evolutionary changes in particular bound exercise to brain function in ways that people can make use of today.

Graphic shows how increased production of the protein BDNF may promote neuron growth and survival in the adult brain.

Credit: Tami Tolpa

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For more, visit —->  Why Your Brain Needs Exercise – Scientific American

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[BLOG POST] Exercise can help your brain injury, not just your muscles – #jumbledbrain

Having suffered a car accident, I had some serious injuries. These included my spine, nerves and my brain. I had foot drop, where when you raise your leg, you can not raise your foot from your ankle, leaving it to hang limply. That means you cannot put any weight on it and it will not offer any support or flexibility. On top of this, due tExerciseo a damaged nerve in my neck, and had weakness down my left side. However after 10 days, the hospital team got me walking with crutches, and sent me home.

I knew that I needed to do some exercise to help rebuild some of my strength. But what I didn’t know was how good exercise is for your brain as well.

We all know that the more you practise at something, the better you will get at it. Well, the brain is just the same. Every time you perform an action, you are creating the building blocks for a new pathway in your brain. Let me give you an example. I used to love painting and drawing. But following my  brain injury, I could barely write legibly. For me this was depressing, as my art was a part of who I was. My partner James, kept badgering me to keep trying although I felt he just didn’t understand. I couldn’t make my hand follow the instructions I gave it properly, leaving me frustrated.

Exercise doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym. Just practise a physical activity.

So many sheets of paper ended up in the bin. (I would like to apologise to the trees who were sacrificed  for my cause.) But in time my writing improved, and I found my artistic flair returning to me. Just by reminding the muscles in my hand and arm how to behave, I had begun to regain my skill. But it wasn’t because the muscles needed to be rebuilt, it was because my brain needed to create new pathways to replace those that were damaged. This is the same process as when you learn a skill for the first time, and why your mother always said “practise makes perfect.” The more we do an action, the more the brain prioritises building pathways which make a shortcut to that action.

Now I know you are saying “but Michelle drawing and writing isn’t exercise.” And yes you are right, but I wanted to share this example with you to help you see that although there is the physical muscles movements, there is much more that needs to happen and I think we can all agree agree creativity is something very much in your brain.

Think about how in sports there is a tactical element, spacial awareness, problem solving… the list goes on.

Think of your favourite teams and how some are better at the element of surprise than others. This is the players having to read the current situation and apply the tactics that they have been practising all whilst dealing with how their opponents are trying to stop them. Yes it helps to be the fastest and strongest person on the pitch, but if you can’t get your timing, accuracy and game plan right, you’re going to still struggle. And whilst you might take the feedback from your coach with, you can only get better at these things by going out there and trying again. Ths that’s why exercise can help your brain injury recovery for other parts of the brain too.

I’m now 5 years on from my accident, and most people wouldn’t notice my slight limp. For someone who struggled to walk for so long, that’s not bad. I still have nerve damage, and I may do for the rest of my life, but I can deal with it. I’d be frightened to go skiing again, but it doesn’t affect my everyday life much at all. Yes I get pain and tire much easier, but I can cope with that.

My brain is still trying to repair my cognitive skills. Bearing in mind I couldn’t read or write to start with, I think it’s fair to say it’s doing a pretty good job. I even set up this website all by myself even though I had no experience of doing this sort of thing before. (If you are thinking of starting a blog but aren’t sure where to start head over to Starting a blog following a brain injury is difficult, but it is achievable to get some ideas on how to get going.)

No matter what your fitness level, or sporting ability never underestimate the importance of exercise.

You don’t need to run like you’re Mo Farah, just find something you enjoy which you can fit into your busy schedule. Dance, yoga and swimming are all great options. As evidence is growing to show regular exercise can stave off dementia, your brain will thank you for it. We all have days when just getting out of bed is an achievement, so don’t feel any shame in taking it easy. But just remember your efforts will encourage enhancements in much more than just becoming physically stronger. Your mental health and general well being will benefit too. Exercise can help your brain injury recovery process and you might even discover a talent for something new that you never knew you had.

Other articles you may like:

What exercises have you found most beneficial following your brain injury?

via Exercise can help your brain injury, not just your muscles #jumbledbrain

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[WEB PAGE] Study reveals three effective treatments to stop epilepsy seizures

 

There are effective treatments to stop life-threatening epilepsy seizures when the initial treatment has failed, a sweeping new study reveals.

The study offers important answers about three such emergency drugs that are used to treat prolonged seizures, known as status epilepticus, even though physicians have had little understanding of the drugs’ effectiveness. Until now, there has been no clear indication of which is best or how much should be given.

The study found that the three drugs – intravenous levetiracetam, fosphenytoin, and valproate – were all about equally effective at stopping the potentially deadly seizures when the default choice, benzodiazepines, proved unable to do so. The results were so clear that the shocked researchers stopped their trial early.

When we planned the study, we didn’t even know if these drugs work 10%, 25% or 50% of the time. So the big, big takeaway is that each of these drugs works about 45 percent of the time. And this is an important finding because it tells us patients can get better. They don’t have to be placed on a on a ventilator [breathing machine].”

Jaideep Kapur, MBBS, PhD, investigator and the head of the University of Virginia Brain Institute

Effect on Clinical Practice

The study’s findings, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, both affirm existing clinical practices and suggest a major change.

Doctors can feel confident that their preferred drug of choice is as effective as the other options, Kapur noted, but they also should significantly increase how much levetiracetam they give when they choose it.

“Prior to this, people were using their best guess as to which drug to use and how much of it to use. And this puts those things to rest and tells you exactly how much of which to use, and what to expect,” said Kapur, of the UVA School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology.

The trial organizers tested the maximum safe dose of each of the drugs so there would be no question whether too little had been used to gauge the medicine’s effectiveness. In so doing, they gave twice as much levetiracetam as many doctors administer.

“When I started 25 years ago, there was not a single scientifically proven drug [for status epilepticus]. We didn’t know which drug to use, even for the first-line treatment, and how much of them to use,” Kapur said. “And 25 years later, we can treat more than 80% of the patients – 85% of the patients – using scientifically proven drugs. 85% of our patients will get better, will stop having seizures and start waking up. That is the effect of scientific research on improving care of patients, and this is real.”

About the Epilepsy Seizure Trial

The randomized, double-blinded trial looked at the effect of the drugs in 384 patients at 57 emergency departments in the United States between November 2015 and the end of October 2017.

The researchers originally planned to study 795 patients over five years, but the results were so clear that was deemed unnecessary. “Clinical trials are notorious for going over long and over budget, and we came in under budget,” Kapur said.

That was possible, he said, because of the participation of many top experts in both the United States and Europe. Participating sites included the University of Michigan, Medical University of South Carolina, UVA, Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and many more.

“It was an amazingly accomplished group of people,” Kapur said. “We had the best experts from all over the United States and Europe. For me, it’s been a great joy working with the team as the leader of the Brain Institute. That’s the spirit I want to bring to UVA. That’s really what motivated me to start the Brain Institute: to fashion these teams within UVA, so that we can do really significant, societally impactful research.”

UVA Emergency Medicine physician Stephen Huff, MD, led the study at the UVA site, which enrolled seven subjects. Amy Fansler, Emily Gray and Lea Becker helped organize the study.

Kapur expressed his gratitute to all the patients who participated in the study. “President Ryan [UVA President Jim Ryan] has said we must be great and good,” Kapur said, “and this is the kind of good we want to do.”

Next Steps

The researchers are now looking more closely at the drugs’ effectiveness and dosing in children. That will offer important information on how best to treat the young patients, as the causes of status epilepticus in adults and children often differ.

 

via Study reveals three effective treatments to stop epilepsy seizures

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[NEWS] Telemedicine may be as effective as in-person visit for people with many neurologic disorders

For people with many neurologic disorders, seeing the neurologist by video may be as effective as an in-person visit, according to a review of the evidence conducted by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). The evidence review examined all available studies on use of telemedicine for several neurologic conditions – stroke being one of the conditions that is well-validated and highly utilizes telemedicine – and is published in the December 4, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the AAN. The results indicate that a diagnosis from a neurologist by video for certain neurologic conditions is likely to be as accurate as an in-person visit.

Telemedicine is the use of video conferencing or other technology for doctor visits from another location. The patient could be at home or at a local doctor’s office.

Telemedicine can be especially helpful for people with epilepsy, who may not be able to drive to appointments, people with neurologic disorders like multiple sclerosis and movement disorders, who may have mobility issues that make getting to a clinic difficult, and, of course, for people in rural areas who may not be able to see a neurologist based hours away without making that trip. Another effective use may be for evaluating people with possible concussions, where telemedicine could be used on-site to make an immediate diagnosis. For sports injuries, it could be used to make a decision on whether the athlete is ready to return to the field.”

Jaime Hatcher-Martin, MD, PhD, lead author who was with Emory University in Atlanta while serving on the American Academy of Neurology’s Telemedicine Work Group, is now with the company SOC Telemed and is a member of the American Academy of Neurology

For the evidence review, the researchers analyzed 101 studies on telemedicine use in the areas of concussion and traumatic brain injury, dementia, epilepsy, headache, multiple sclerosis, movement disorders, neuromuscular conditions and general neurology. Hatcher-Martin noted that evidence for the use of telemedicine for stroke has been well-established.

Overall, studies found that patients and their caregivers were just as satisfied with virtual doctor visits as they were with in-person visits. Some studies show that using telemedicine is as effective as in-person visits to make accurate diagnoses and in some cases may show improved health outcomes. However, few randomized, controlled studies have been conducted on telemedicine for neurology, outside of stroke. In many areas, little research has been done.

“This is just the beginning of evaluating the benefits of telemedicine in neurology,” said senior author Raghav Govindarajan, MD, of the University of Missouri, who served as a chair on the American Academy of Neurology’s Telemedicine Work Group and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

“We need to conduct further studies to better understand when virtual appointments are a good option for a patient. Keep in mind that telemedicine may not eliminate the need for people to meet with a neurologist in person. Rather, it is another tool that can help increase people’s access to care and also help lessen the burden of travel and costs for patients, providers and caregivers.”

via Telemedicine may be as effective as in-person visit for people with many neurologic disorders

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[WEB SITE] Traumatic brain injuries could be healed using peptide hydrogels

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) –– defined as a bump, blow or jolt to the head that disrupts normal brain function –– sent 2.5 million people in the U.S. to the emergency room in 2014, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, researchers report a self-assembling peptide hydrogel that, when injected into the brains of rats with TBI, increased blood vessel regrowth and neuronal survival.

The researchers will present their results at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition. ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,500 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“When we think about traumatic brain injuries, we think of soldiers and athletes,” says Biplab Sarkar, Ph.D., who is presenting the work at the meeting. “But most TBIs actually happen when people fall or are involved in motor vehicle accidents. As the average age of the country continues to rise, the number of fall-related accidents in particular will also increase.”

TBIs encompass two types of injuries. Primary injury results from the initial mechanical damage to neurons and other cells in the brain, as well as blood vessels. Secondary injuries, which can occur seconds after the TBI and last for years, include oxidative stress, inflammation and disruption of the blood-brain barrier. “The secondary injury creates this neurotoxic environment that can lead to long-term cognitive effects,” Sarkar says. For example, TBI survivors can experience impaired motor control and an increased rate of depression, he says. Currently, there is no effective regenerative treatment for TBIs.

Sarkar and Vivek Kumar, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, wanted to develop a therapy that could help treat secondary injuries.

We wanted to be able to regrow new blood vessels in the area to restore oxygen exchange, which is reduced in patients with a TBI. Also, we wanted to create an environment where neurons can be supported and even thrive.”

Biplab Sarkar, Ph.D., New Jersey Institute of Technology

The researchers, both at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, had previously developed peptides that can self-assemble into hydrogels when injected into rodents. By incorporating snippets of particular protein sequences into the peptides, the team can give them different functions. For example, Sarkar and Kumar previously developed angiogenic peptide hydrogels that grow new blood vessels when injected under the skin of mice.

To adapt their technology to the brain, Sarkar and Kumar modified the peptide sequences to make the material properties of the hydrogel more closely resemble those of brain tissue, which is softer than most other tissues of the body. They also attached a sequence from a neuroprotective protein called ependymin. The researchers tested the new peptide hydrogel in a rat model of TBI. When injected at the injury site, the peptides self-assembled into a hydrogel that acted as a neuroprotective niche to which neurons could attach.

A week after injecting the hydrogel, the team examined the rats’ brains. They found that in the presence of the hydrogel, survival of the brain cells dramatically improved, resulting in about twice as many neurons at the injury site in treated rats than in control animals with brain injury. In addition, the researchers saw signs of new blood vessel formation. “We saw some indications that the rats in the treated group were more ambulatory than those in the control group, but we need to do more experiments to actually quantify that,” Sarkar says.

According to Kumar, one of the next steps will be to study the behavior of the treated animals to assess their functional recovery from TBI. The researchers are also interested in treating rats with a combination of their previous angiogenic peptide and their new neurogenic version to see if this could enhance recovery. And finally, they plan to find out if the peptide hydrogels work for more diffuse brain injuries, such as concussions. “We’ve seen that we can inject these materials into a defined injury and get good tissue regeneration, but we’re also collaborating with different groups to find out if it could help with the types of injuries we see in soldiers, veterans and even people working at construction sites who experience blast injuries,” Kumar says.

via Traumatic brain injuries could be healed using peptide hydrogels

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[TED Talk] The brain may be able to repair itself — with help | Jocelyne Bloch – YouTube

Through treating everything from strokes to car accident traumas, neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch knows the brain’s inability to repair itself all too well. But now, she suggests, she and her colleagues may have found the key to neural repair: Doublecortin-positive cells. Similar to stem cells, they are extremely adaptable and, when extracted from a brain, cultured and then re-injected in a lesioned area of the same brain, they can help repair and rebuild it. “With a little help,” Bloch says, “the brain may be able to help itself.”

via The brain may be able to repair itself — with help | Jocelyne Bloch – YouTube

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[WEB SITE] CT head scan: Uses, procedure, risks, and results

A computed tomography (CT) scan of the head is an imaging scan that uses X-rays to develop a 3D image of the skull, brain, and other related areas of the head.

CT scan of the head can provide more detail than a traditional X-ray, which is particularly useful when a doctor wants to check the blood vessels and soft tissues in the body.

In this article, we explain why a doctor may order a CT scan of the head and what a person can expect if they need to undergo this procedure.

When do people need a CT head scan?

a man having a CT head scan

A person may have a CT head scan after trauma to check for damage.

Some of the reasons why a doctor may order a head CT scan include:

  • looking for possible damage after trauma to the head, such as soft tissue injuries, brain bleeding, and bone injuries
  • assessing a person having stroke-like symptoms to see whether there are signs of a blood clot or brain bleeding
  • looking for a possible brain tumor or other brain abnormality
  • checking the effectiveness of medical treatments in shrinking a brain tumor
  • assessing birth conditions that cause the skull to form abnormally
  • evaluating a person with a history of hydrocephalus, a condition in which an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid causes the enlargement of the brain ventricles

If a person is having brain-related symptoms, such as changes in personality or affected movement, a doctor may order a head CT scan to make sure that a brain abnormality is not the underlying cause.

Test procedure

A doctor should provide specific instructions for the day of the CT scan. These will include whether or not to refrain from eating or drinking for a certain period before the scan.

The doctor will also usually ask the person to take off any jewelry, removable dental work, or hairpins because these can affect the scan’s images.

Sometimes, people who take metformin (Glucophage) may need to refrain from using it for a few days before getting a CT scan with contrast dye. The combination of this drug and the dye can cause a severe reaction in some individuals.

Contrast dye is a substance that the person may receive by injection before a scan. It makes certain areas of the body show up more easily on a scan. However, not all CT scans require contrast dye.

The person will often complete a checklist before undergoing the scan. The checklist includes a medical history of conditions that can affect a person’s health, such as kidney disease, heart diseaseasthma, and thyroid problems. Some health issues may affect a person’s ability to receive intravenous (IV) contrast.

The scanner usually looks like a circle shaped machine that has a hole in its center. In the center, there is a bed on which a person lies during the procedure. The scanner is usually open, which helps the person feel less claustrophobic.

radiology technician may ask the person to change into a gown before going into the room with the CT scanner.

Before the scan, a radiology technician may put an IV line in place, usually in the person’s arm, if the scan uses contrast dye.

During the scan, the radiology technician will talk to the person via a speaker to let them know them when the scan is starting. The scanner will direct X-ray beams at the person’s head. The X-rays will come back to the scanner, transmitting the images back to a computer.

After the initial scan, the radiology technician may deliver the IV contrast material. They will then restart the CT scan. The technologist will review the images to ensure that they are of high quality and are free of blurring in any key areas.

The average CT scan of the head takes no more than 10 minutes.

CT head scans in children

a doctor preparing a child for a CT scan.

Children are sensitive to radiation, so a doctor may only order a CT scan when necessary to confirm a diagnosis.

As a CT scan is relatively quick, many children can stay still long enough for the technician to complete the scan. However, if a child cannot remain still for the scan — as is the case for babies — it may be necessary to perform the procedure with the child under anesthesia.

Children are typically more sensitive to radiation than adults. As a result, doctors tend to reserve CT scans for when they are necessary to make a diagnosis. A radiology technician can usually adjust the settings on a CT scanner to deliver the lowest possible dose of radiation.

Risks

The CT scan is a painless, noninvasive procedure, and doctors generally consider it to be safe. However, it carries some possible risks.

As a CT scan exposes a person to radiation, there is a risk that the person could develop cancer from excessive radiation doses. However, the risks for this after one CT head scan are minimal. A person can ask their doctor if they should be concerned about the radiation dose from a CT head scan.

Doctors will usually recommend that women avoid CT scans during pregnancy. However, as one CT scan is unlikely to pose a significant risk, a doctor can offer advice on whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Read about the safety of X-rays here.

A CT scan can be noisy. Sometimes, this noise or the fear of being in an enclosed space can provoke anxiety in a person. For this reason, doctors may sometimes give a person sedating medicines before they go into the CT scanner.

If a person receives a contrast dye during the procedure, they could be at risk of experiencing an allergic reaction to the dye.

Contrast dye can also cause other symptoms that may be temporarily unpleasant but are not an allergic reaction. These may include a warm feeling throughout the body, a burning sensation, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe a steroid or advise a person to take diphenhydramine (Benadryl) before undergoing the scan.

Results

A medical specialist called a radiologist will examine the imaging scans, looking for any abnormalities in the brain and surrounding tissues. They will write a report of their findings and send it to the doctor who ordered the scan.

If a person is in the hospital and undergoing the scan as an emergency, the radiologist will report any immediately concerning results as quickly as possible.

CT scan vs. MRI scan

a doctor showing a patient information on an ipad

A person’s doctor can advise on which type of scan is best to diagnose a certain condition.

While a CT scan is helpful in displaying some aspects of the head and brain, an MRI scan sometimes has higher sensitivity. As a result, it may be more effective in revealing disease processes in the brain and inflammation in the membranes covering the brain, which are known as the meninges.

Doctors will consider the advantages of each type of scan for scanning the head. The benefits of a CT scan compared with an MRI scan include:

  • A CT scan is faster than an MRI scan, so doctors usually use it for emergencies.
  • A CT scan generally costs less than an MRI scan.
  • Doctors can perform a CT scan on a person who has metal devices, such as a pacemaker, nerve stimulator, or cochlear implant. A person with these devices cannot undergo an MRI because of the magnet’s attraction to metal.

The benefits of an MRI scan compared with a CT scan include:

  • An MRI does not involve radiation exposure, making it preferable for children who may require multiple scans.
  • MRI scans can show soft tissues and structures that bone may hide in a CT scan.
  • A person requires a smaller amount of IV contrast for an MRI scan than for a CT scan.

People can talk to their doctor to evaluate the aspects of each scan and determine which is most appropriate for them.

Summary

A CT scan of the head is useful for helping a doctor assess damage after an accident or head trauma. It also allows them to look for brain abnormalities, such as tumors and skull defects.

Doctors consider CT scans to be relatively safe and noninvasive procedures, even though they involve exposure to radiation. People can discuss any possible risks with their doctor.

 

via CT head scan: Uses, procedure, risks, and results

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