Relation between neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings in patients with late whiplash syndrome

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Abstract

Objectives

The interpretation of long term cognitive impairment after whiplash injury is still a problem for many physicians. On the grounds of nuclear medicine findings previous research speculated that brain damage is responsible for cognitive problems of patients with whiplash. To test this hypothesis the relation between neuroimaging and neuropsychological findings was analysed.

Methods

Twenty one patients (11 women, 10 men, mean age 42.2 (SD 8.6) years) with the late whiplash syndrome (average interval of trauma 26.1 (SD 20.7) months) referred for diagnostic action to the Department of Neurology were investigated. Assessment included computer assisted assessment of working memory and divided attention, neuroimaging (by the means of [(99m) Tc]-HMPAO-SPECT, [(15) O]-H2O-PET and [(18) F]-FDG-PET), testing of emotional functioning (depression and anxiety ratings), and pain intensity at the time of testing.

Results

On average, scoring on tests of cognitive functioning was very low. However, no significant correlations were found between regional perfusion or metabolism in any brain area and the scores of divided attention or working memory. By contrast, significant relations were found between indices of impaired emotional functioning (state anxiety) and divided attention. In addition, low scoring in divided attention was significantly correlated with pain intensity at the time of testing.

Conclusions

The present data do not provide evidence of a significant relation between detectable morphological or functional brain damage and impaired cognitive performance in the late whiplash syndrome. Results indicate triggering of emotional and cognitive symptoms on the basis of initial injury of the cervical spine.

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