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Methods of Monitoring the Brain


       The brain is the control center of the human body.  It sends and receives millions of signals every second, day and night, in the form of hormones, nerve impulses, and chemical messengers.  This exchange of information make us move, eat, sleep and think. 
        Obstructions such as tumors can interrupt normal brain activity, leading to deficits of normal reasoning, motor control, or consciousness. Many of the signs of neural damage are easily recognizable by an outside observer, but since the actual cause of these problems are internal, the symptoms can be vague.  The real deficits can affect the brain's anatomy, or the way signals are processed.  A physician can only determine the real cause by examining the brain internally to find irregularities, either in structure or in functioning.  Since the brain is extremely fragile and difficult to access without risking further damage, imaging techniques are used frequently as a noninvasive method of visualizing the brain's structure and activity. 

        Today's technology provides many useful tools for studying the brain, and this website will try to briefly describe the most important ones.  Some have their most important applications in medical diagnosis, and some are used more for research.  The latter are often too expensive or limited for cost-efficient medical use, but can prove valuable and necessary in the future through development and further advances. 

        There are two main groups of procedures.  Structural analysis is used to analyze the anatomy of the brain, in order to find structural deviations.  These could be tumors, hemorrhages, blood clots and lesions, or even deficits present at birth.   Functional analysis tries to measure and locate brain activity.  This is useful for investigating the functioning of special structures, and to diagnose epileptic seizures or diseases affecting brain activity. Functional imaging is also used to aid surgical treatment of brain lesions when it becomes necessary to determine the locality of essential functional cortex to help guide the best surgical approach.  Many times a structural and functional method will be used in conjunction to better assess how the activity and region are related.