Concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), is a commonly occurring sports-related injury, especially in contact sports such as hockey. Cerebral microbleeds (CMBs), which appear as small, hypointense lesions on T2*-weighted images, can result from TBI. The authors use susceptibility-weighted imaging (SWI) to automatically detect small hypointensities that may be subtle signs of chronic and acute damage due to both subconcussive and concussive injury. The goal was to investigate how the burden of these hypointensities changes over time, over a playing season, and postconcussion, in comparison with subjects who did not suffer a medically observed and diagnosed concussion.
Images were obtained in 45 university-level adult male and female ice hockey players before and after a single Canadian Interuniversity Sports season. In addition, 11 subjects (5 men and 6 women) underwent imaging at 72 hours, 2 weeks, and 2 months after concussion. To identify subtle changes in brain tissue and potential CMBs, nonvessel clusters of hypointensities on SWI were automatically identified, and a hypointensity burden index was calculated for all subjects at the beginning of the season (BOS), the end of the season (EOS), and at postconcussion time points (where applicable).
A statistically significant increase in the hypointensity burden, relative to the BOS, was observed for male subjects with concussions at the 2-week postconcussion time point. A smaller, nonsignificant rise in the burden for female subjects with concussions was also observed within the same time period. There were no significant changes in burden for nonconcussed subjects of either sex between the BOS and EOS time points. However, there was a statistically significant difference in the burden between male and female subjects in the nonconcussed group at both the BOS and EOS time points, with males having a higher burden.
This method extends the utility of SWI from the enhancement and detection of larger (> 5 mm) CMBs, which are often observed in more severe cases of TBI, to cases involving smaller lesions in which visual detection of injury is difficult. The hypointensity burden metric proposed here shows statistically significant changes over time in the male subjects. A smaller, nonsignificant increase in the burden metric was observed in the female subjects.