Brain tsunamis are seizure-like waves of electrical activity in the brain caused by Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) and strokes. Much like a tidal wave in the ocean, brain tsunamis build power, wash through the brain, and subside, leaving behind a path of destruction. The waves exhibit electrical signal voltage up to ten times that of normal causing changes to chemistry balance, blood flow, and transfer of oxygen through the brain. During the ebb of the wave, they also cause the brain to short-circuit as evidenced by a period of “dead air” in audio recordings. Doctors have been able to track the process of brain tsunamis for several years but only recently have been able to identify the extent of damage.
It is estimated that 60% of the most serious TBI injuries, those that require surgery, show tsunami activity. But they are also present in the brains of people with noticeably less damage including those with “short-term” concussions. Sometimes the tsunamis last only a few days in these patients, but often up to a year or more. Recent studies have shown that even mild concussions have lasting impact on patients and may result in compounded damage if repeat injuries are suffered.
Brain tsunami scientist Jed Hartings, PhD, of the Mayfield Clinic in Ohio, has linked the condition to reduced recovery in patients with TBI. Hartings, along with scientists and physicians at the UC College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard University, the University of California San Francisco, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Miami, are launching a nationwide study into brain tsunamis using non-invasive electrode “EEG caps.” The clinical study will involve post-surgical patients and will track 20-25 channels of brain activity and 200 points of data per second for a period of seven days. If the EEG caps are effective at monitoring the condition, it could not only help with treatment strategies but also open treatment up to a larger number of brain injury victims.
After the physical study, Hartings and his team will develop an algorithm to interpret the data. With successful results Hartings EEG cap could become a standard for use in TBI assessment; help develop treatments for the injuries; and vastly improve recovery outcomes for TMI patients.