Comprehensive evaluation of patients with concussion-like symptoms following reports of audible phenomena in Cuba

February 15, 2018, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

A comprehensive evaluation by clinical researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania identified a neurological syndrome that left U.S. government personnel serving in Havana, Cuba with persistent memory and thinking dysfunction, as well as vision and balance problems after hearing unusual noises in their homes or hotel rooms. The team published their findings in JAMA.

"None of these have suffered any type of blunt head trauma, yet the symptoms they describe and evaluations demonstrate are remarkably similar to those found in persistent concussion syndrome," said the study's senior author, Douglas H. Smith, MD, the Robert A. Groff Professor and vice chair of Research and Education in the department of Neurosurgery and director of Penn's Center for Brain Injury and Repair. "It appears that we have identified a new syndrome that may have important public health implications."

In fall of 2016, U.S. government personnel serving in Havana began to report a variety of neurological symptoms often linked with hearing unusual noises in their homes and hotel rooms. Initial examinations were mainly performed at the University of Miami, revealing that the neurological signs resembled concussions. Penn's Center for Brain Injury and Repair was then selected to coordinate multidisciplinary evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of the patients, beginning in summer 2017. Participating Penn specialists included faculty from the departments of and rehabilitation, occupational medicine, neurology, neuropsychology, neurosurgery, and neuroradiology.

In the new study, the Penn research team reports that patients experienced a wide variety of neurocognitive symptoms, including memory problems, trouble concentrating and processing information, and word-finding difficulties. Visual focusing, dizziness, and were also commonly reported during and after the sound incidents, and many patients subsequently suffered from headaches and sleep problems.

To date, the team has identified more than 20 individuals with the history of exposure and/or symptoms. It is currently unclear if or how the noise is related to the reported symptoms.

"The good news is that the symptoms appear to respond to rehabilitation interventions in a similar fashion as we see in patients with persisting symptoms following a concussion," said the study's lead author, Randel Swanson, DO, PhD, an assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. "While some patients reported that symptoms diminished on their own over time with no treatments, most individuals had symptoms that did not begin to improve until targeted therapies were initiated."

Armed with the results of each patient's evaluation, the Penn team has developed individualized, interdisciplinary neurorehabilitation programs to help patients recover and return safely to work.

The Penn Center for Brain Injury and Repair was founded more than 40 years ago, and is largest center of its kind. More than 30 principal investigators and their staff span diverse disciplines from across the University of Pennsylvania, including experts in neurosurgery, bioengineering, pharmacology, pathology, neurology, pediatrics, neuroradiology, rehabilitation, , and emergency medicine. Working in a highly collaborative environment, these researchers study ways to significantly improve the quality of life for people suffering from traumatic (TBI) and to prevent the "secondary" or delayed injuries that are initiated by brain trauma.

Explore further: Researchers identify treatment option for brain injury patients suffering from aggression

Related Stories

Researchers identify treatment option for brain injury patients suffering from aggression

September 11, 2017
A drug originally developed in the 1960s as an antiviral medication is showing promise as a treatment option for people who suffer from increased feelings of aggression following traumatic brain injury, Indiana University ...

Vision problems after concussion

January 6, 2017
Vision problems are a common and sometimes lasting consequence of head injuries—from children and teens with sports-related concussions to military personnel with combat-related traumatic brain injury (TBI). New research ...

Vision symptoms following concussion limit a child's ability to return to the classroom

January 5, 2017
A comprehensive vision assessment should be part of return-to-learn protocols to help determine when children are ready to return to the classroom following concussions—particularly in children reporting academic difficulty.

Post-concussion, peripheral vision reaction times substantially impaired

January 23, 2017
After a concussion occurs, symptoms most commonly experienced are headache, dizziness, memory problems and sleep disturbances, as well as visual dysfunction. Such symptoms can be difficult to quantify and follow in patients ...

Improvement of mood associated with improved brain injury outcomes

November 25, 2013
Mayo Clinic researchers found that improvement of mood over the course of post-acute brain rehabilitation is associated with increased participation in day-to-day activities, independent living, and ability to work after ...

Researchers identify protein that predicts post-concussion severity in professional athletes

November 25, 2014
New Penn Medicine research has found that elevated levels in the blood of the brain-enriched protein calpain-cleaved αII-spectrin N-terminal fragment, known as SNTF, shortly after sports-related concussion can predict the ...

Recommended for you

New technique helps uncover changes in ALS neurons

June 22, 2018
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered that some neurons affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) display hypo-excitability, using a new method to measure electrical activity in cells, according to a study ...

Broken shuttle may interfere with learning in major brain disorders

June 22, 2018
Unable to carry signals based on sights and sounds to the genes that record memories, a broken shuttle protein may hinder learning in patients with intellectual disability, schizophrenia, and autism.

Watching stem cells repair spinal cord in real time

June 22, 2018
Monash University researchers have restored movement and regenerated nerves using stem cells in zebra fish where the spinal cord is severely damaged.

Scientists discover fundamental rule of brain plasticity

June 21, 2018
Our brains are famously flexible, or "plastic," because neurons can do new things by forging new or stronger connections with other neurons. But if some connections strengthen, neuroscientists have reasoned, neurons must ...

Waking up is hard to do: Prefrontal cortex implicated in consciousness

June 21, 2018
Philosophers have pondered the nature of consciousness for thousands of years. In the 21st century, the debate over how the brain gives rise to our everyday experience continues to puzzle scientists. To help, researchers ...

Researchers find mechanism behind choosing alcohol over healthy rewards

June 21, 2018
A new study links molecular changes in the brain to behaviours that are central in addiction, such as choosing a drug over alternative rewards. The researchers have developed a method in which rats learn to get an alcohol ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.