The use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) may be able to detect signs of consciousness among comatose brain injury patients in the intensive care unit (ICU), according to researchers.

Standard bedside neurological examinations often miss these subtle signs of consciousness.

Reasons why could include that the patient may be unable to speak, write or move due to the brain injury itself or sedating medications, or the doctor may misinterpret a weak but intentional movement as a reflex response, notes a media release from Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study included 16 severely brain injured patients in the ICU. The researchers suggest in their study that the use of fMRI and EEG may be able to reveal a level of consciousness that cannot be detected via a standard bedside examination.

“Early detection of consciousness and brain function in the intensive care unit could allow families to make more informed decisions about the care of loved ones,” says Dr Brian Edlow, from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery, in the release.

“Also, since early recovery of consciousness is associated with better long-term outcomes, these tests could help patients gain access to rehabilitative care once they are discharged from an ICU,” adds Edlow co-lead author of the study, published recently in the journal Brain.

“Based on these results, our team … is working on improving the accuracy of these tests, and we are planning a larger follow-up study in the near future,” he concludes.

[Source(s): Massachusetts General Hospital, Medline Plus]