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Brain Scans can Predict Vegetative Patient’s Recovery

Update Date: Apr 18, 2014 02:56 PM EDT

For many patients living in a vegetative state, their prognoses can be hard to predict. However, that might all change according to a new study that used brain scans to help identify which patients have the greatest chances of waking up.

In this study, 15 researchers from Belgium headed by Steven Laureys from the University of Liége recruited 126 patients who had suffered from severe brain damage. 41 had unresponsive wakefulness syndrome, also known as a vegetative state, 81 were in a minimally conscious state and four had locked-in syndrome. The researchers used two different brain scans to examine the patient's brain activity. The first one was a PET scan that used fluorodeoxyglucose and the second was a functional MRI that was able to track the brain's real-time activity.

The researchers discovered that the PET scan was more effective in predicting which patients had a greater chance of waking up or regaining consciousness. Out of the 36 patients who were deemed "behaviorally unresponsive" after using the bedside test, one-third of them had brain activity show up in their PET scan. The activity suggested that the patients had some level of consciousness.

"Our findings suggest that PET imaging can reveal cognitive processes that aren't visible through traditional bedside tests, and could substantially complement standard behavioral assessments to identify unresponsive or 'vegetative' patients who have the potential for long-term recovery," Laureys said reported by the Washington Post.

This study's findings could change how comatose patients are cared for. The study, "Diagnostic precision of PET imaging and functional MRI in disorders of consciousness: a clinical validation study," was published in the Lancet.

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