Military

Military Still Failing To Diagnose, Treat Brain Injuries

Authors: T. CHRISTIAN MILLER and DANIEL ZWERDLING

NPR: National Public radio June 8, 2010

The military medical system is failing to diagnose brain injuries in troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom receive little or no treatment for lingering health problems, an investigation by NPR and ProPublica has found.

So-called mild traumatic brain injury has been called one of the wars' signature wounds. Shock waves from roadside bombs can ripple through soldiers' brains, causing damage that sometimes leaves no visible scars but may cause lasting mental and physical harm.

Officially, military figures say about 115,000 troops have suffered mild traumatic brain injuries since the wars began. But top Army officials acknowledged in interviews that those statistics likely understate the true toll. Tens of thousands of troops with such wounds have gone uncounted, according to unpublished military research obtained by NPR and ProPublica.

"When someone's missing a limb, you can see that," said Sgt. William Fraas, a Bronze Star recipient who survived several roadside blasts in Iraq. He can no longer drive, or remember simple lists of jobs to do around the house. "When someone has a brain injury, you can't see it, but it's still serious."

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in U.S. Soldiers Returning from Iraq

Authors: Charles W. Hoge, M.D., Dennis McGurk, Ph.D., Jeffrey L. Thomas, Ph.D., Anthony L. Cox, M.S.W., Charles C. Engel, M.D., M.P.H., and Carl A. Castro, Ph.D.
N Engl J Med 2008; 358:453-463January 31, 2008

BACKGROUND

An important medical concern of the Iraq war is the potential long-term effect of mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion, particularly from blast explosions. However, the epidemiology of combat-related mild traumatic brain injury is poorly understood.

METHODS

We surveyed 2525 U.S. Army infantry soldiers 3 to 4 months after their return from a year-long deployment to Iraq. Validated clinical instruments were used to compare soldiers reporting mild traumatic brain injury, defined as an injury with loss of consciousness or altered mental status (e.g., dazed or confused), with soldiers who reported other injuries. 

RESULTS

Of 2525 soldiers, 124 (4.9%) reported injuries with loss of consciousness, 260 (10.3%) reported injuries with altered mental status, and 435 (17.2%) reported other injuries during deployment. Of those reporting loss of consciousness, 43.9% met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 27.3% of those reporting altered mental status, 16.2% with other injuries, and 9.1% with no injury. Soldiers with mild traumatic brain injury, primarily those who had loss of consciousness, were significantly more likely to report poor general health, missed workdays, medical visits, and a high number of somatic and postconcussive symptoms than were soldiers with other injuries. However, after adjustment for PTSD and depression, mild traumatic brain injury was no longer significantly associated with these physical health outcomes or symptoms, except for headache.

CONCLUSIONS

Mild traumatic brain injury (i.e., concussion) occurring among soldiers deployed in Iraq is strongly associated with PTSD and physical health problems 3 to 4 months after the soldiers return home. PTSD and depression are important mediators of the relationship between mild traumatic brain injury and physical health problems.

 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Military