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Study shows that flu drug benefits recovery from brain injuries

According to government data, approximately 1.7 million Americans receive a traumatic brain injury each year. The majority of those injuries are caused by assault, getting hit by an object, car crashes and falls.

Reports indicate that about 75 percent of those traumatic brain injuries come in milder forms -- usually as concussions. If treated properly, these injuries recover over time and should not cause any serious long-term effects. Of the remaining 25 percent, about 275,000 individuals are hospitalized and 52,000 pass away. Some of those hospitalized have injuries so serious that they are left incapacitated.

For some patients in Chicago and throughout the United States, a new study may bring some hope of recovery. An inexpensive medicine used primarily for the flu was approved in the 1960s. Later, it was found that patients with symptoms of Parkinson's syndrome were improving after having this medicine -- known as amantadine -- administered. Soon after this discovery, the drug was approved for Parkinson's.

According to experts, amantadine has an effect on the dopamine system, which assists in the functions of alertness and movement. Physicians, using logic rather than data, began prescribing the drug to patients with brain injuries. The results have been promising.

According to some, this has been going on for decades. But with this new study, the prescription of amantadine may become more common than it ever has for patients with brain injuries.

The study used two groups of severely injured patients. One received amantadine while the other received a placebo drug. According to the results, those that received amantadine recovered faster than the patients that did not. After four weeks, individuals that had been taking the drug were more likely to provide reliable yes-and-no answers.

It was also found that more of the amantadine group could follow commands and use a hairbrush or spoon. Few of those in either group could do any of these tasks before the study began.

According to the results, only 17 percent of those that received the drug remained in a vegetative state. In the group that did not receive the drug, 32 percent remained vegetative.

Source: USA Today, "Study: Old flu drug speeds brain injury recovery," Feb. 29, 2012

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