EEG could help for signs of consciousness in unresponsive brain injured patients

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A new study has repurposed a widely used technology to demonstrate that the brains of some of the brain dead patients are still active. Patients who are unresponsive or brain-injured may appear unconscious but now the scientists have found that a simple technology that is widely used. The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine on June 26, 2019.

The researchers made use of the electroencephalography, which is also known as EEG, to look for signs of brain activity. The scientists looked for signs in a group of brain dead patients and found that 15 percent of those studied had residual activity despite being unable to speak or move. The technology of EEG is already used to diagnose epilepsy or other brain related disorders, but the study has shown that EEG recordings can be used to detect what some of the researchers call preserved consciousness in some of the unresponsive patients with a severe brain injury.

Such a method can make it easy for the doctors to predict if the patients in vegetative state will wake up from coma and might help inform decisions related to withdrawal of life-support. Dr. Brian Edlow, the director of the Laboratory for NeuroImaging of Coma and Consciousness at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the research said, “I think this is a landmark study with the potential to impact clinical practice. Because EEG can be performed at the bedside, I think it has the potential to be generalized in ICUs around the world.”

Dr. Jan Claassen, the head of neurocritical care and medical director of Columbia University’s neurological intensive care unit, is the lead author of the study and had become interested in understanding the consciousness after brain injury when he discovered a different study that made use of functional magnetic resonance imaging to detect brain activity in patients.

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