A technique called hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been shown to help patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who are suffering from a chronic neurological injury. HBOT appears to confer its benefits to these patients by increasing the neuroplasticity in the brain – or, in other words, by making it easier for the brain to re-wire itself. When the brain has a higher degree of neuroplasticity, it is easier to recover from neurological injuries because the brain can find ways to re-wire and restore functions that were lost due to damage to brain tissue.
A new study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, investigated the effects of HBOT on prolonged post-concussion syndrome (PPCS) that occurs as a result of TBI. The researchers used imaging strategies to monitor the brains of 15 patients with PPCS and evaluated the patients with tests of cognition. The researchers gave each patient 60 treatments with HBOT. The treatments were initiated anywhere from 6 months to 27 years after the patients had sustained their injuries.
Using imaging techniques called Dynamic Susceptibility Contrast-Enhanced and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) MR sequences, the researchers observed that HBOT increased blood flow and volume in the brain and that it led to the generation of new blood vessels. Using various cognitive tests, the researchers also found that HBOT improved memory, information processing speed, and executive functions.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that HBOT is beneficial for patients with TBI by inducing neuroplasticity in the brain, improving the integrity of microstructures of both white and gray matter within the brain, and allowing for the regeneration of nerve fibers. Future research will help clarify further benefits of HBOT and how the brain responds to this treatment.