Magazine article Science News

Sound Test Predicts Coma Outcome: Improved Auditory Response in Early Days a Positive Sign

Magazine article Science News

Sound Test Predicts Coma Outcome: Improved Auditory Response in Early Days a Positive Sign

Article excerpt

A coma patient's chances of waking up could be predicted by changes in the brain's ability to discriminate sounds.

Recovery from coma has been linked to auditory function before, but it wasn't clear whether function depended on the time of assessment. Whereas previous studies tested patients several days or weeks after comas set in, a new study looks at the first 48 hours. At this early, critical stage, comatose brains can still distinguish different sound patterns. How this ability changes can predict whether a coma patient will ultimately regain consciousness, researchers report.

"It's a very promising tool for prognosis," says neurologist Me1anie Boly of the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research, who was not involved with the study. "For the family, it's very important to know if someone will recover or not." A team led by neuroscientist Marzia De Lucia of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland studied 30 coma patients who had experienced cardiac arrest that deprived their brains of oxygen. All the patients underwent therapeutic hypothermia, a standard treatment to minimize brain damage, in which their bodies were cooled to 33[degrees] Celsius for 24 hours.

The researchers played sounds for the patients and recorded their brain activity using scalp electrodes--once in hypothermic conditions during the first 24 hours of coma, and again a day later at body temperature. The sounds were a series of pure tones interspersed with tones of different pitch, duration or location. …

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