For combat vets, brain injury symptoms can last years

June 20, 2012 By Lisa Esposito, HealthDay Reporter
For combat vets, brain injury symptoms can last years
'Mild' injury doesn't mean quick recovery, researchers say.

(HealthDay) -- Lingering symptoms from combat-related traumatic brain injuries -- even "mild" cases -- may persist for years, according to a new study of U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans were still battling headaches, depression, dizziness and other symptoms up to eight years after their head injury occurred, researchers found.

The study looked at 500 veterans who underwent general health and depression screenings between 2008 and 2011 at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center and were found to have symptoms of mild and post-concussion syndrome.

The participants, mostly men, were grouped according to whether their head injury had occurred within the previous two years, three to four years, five to six years, or seven to eight years.

The patients self-rated six symptoms: headache, dizziness, , poor coordination, difficulty with decisions, and depression.

Whether the injury had occurred two years or eight years earlier made no significant difference in frequency or intensity of symptoms. And the type of injury made no difference.

"There was a tendency for depression to be a bit more common in the five-to-eight [year] group," said study author Dr. James Couch, a professor of neurology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. "So not only does this not go away, which is what we figured we would probably find -- it may tend to get worse."

Traumatic is considered a hallmark combat injury.

"About two-thirds of the people had primarily , and about one-third had injuries related to falls, , and so forth," Couch said. "One of my patients had a rocket hit a balcony right above him, and he was knocked out by the falling pieces of concrete."

Study cases fell on the lower end of the trauma spectrum.

"These are basically mild traumatic brain injuries," Couch said. "'Mild' meaning that that patient did not have lacerations that were severe, did not have a skull fracture, did not require surgery on the head because of the injury."

One expert described the prevalence of mild traumatic brain injury.

"Probably 10 percent to possibly over 20 percent of deployed service members develop [traumatic brain injury]," said Dr. Steven Cohen, a professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. "Amongst those diagnosed with [traumatic brain injury], 40 percent to 50 percent are mild."

Both experts said the persistence of side effects seen in the study is discouraging.

"With almost any medical condition, the longer you have it, the less likely it is that it will ever go away," said Cohen, who works with patients at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

"One good thing: Now the military does a very good job of screening people and getting them treatment," Cohen said. "They all have case managers; they have wounded-warrior centers. I think it's more difficult in reservists and people with mild injuries. Because they end up leaving active duty and they don't have the same support system."

Study author Couch said that "the military's management and handling of these injuries has changed gradually but dramatically over time. In 2002 they'd probably say, 'Oh, you just got your bell rung a little bit; now get back out there.' Now they say, 'You got your bell rung and you're going to have to take off a day or two and we'll reevaluate and see if we can put you back on the line.'"

Physically, today's soldiers are much better protected, he said. "The helmets are far, far ahead of what was being used in World War II or in the Korean War, Vietnam," Couch noted.

He hopes to continue his research with a 10-year controlled, prospective study.

"We need to pair up the traumatic brain injury person with a person who is race-sex-deployment matched, and try to find out what types of problems arise just from being deployed to a high-danger, high-intensity situation where a person's got to be vigilant and highly alert all the time," Couch said.

Cohen said that the long-term prospects of head-injured soldiers warrant study. "Are these people more likely to die?" he said. "We know that people with severe head trauma are more likely to develop certain types of dementia. Not just eight years down the line, but what happens 30 years down the line?"

The study is scheduled for presentation this week at the American Headache Society's annual meeting in Los Angeles. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Explore further: Study links PTSD to hidden head injuries suffered in combat

More information: The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center has more about combat-related traumatic brain injury.


Related Stories

Study links PTSD to hidden head injuries suffered in combat

June 6, 2012
Even when brain injury is so subtle that it can only be detected by an ultra-sensitive imaging test, the injury might predispose soldiers in combat to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a University of Rochester ...

Traumatic brain injury shows strong link to depression, but treatments lack study

April 14, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Vanderbilt researchers conducting an extensive analysis of studies on traumatic brain injury (TBI), report today that 30 percent of TBI patients, or approximately 360,000 patients each year, will also suffer ...

Traumatic brain injury linked with tenfold increase in stroke risk

July 28, 2011
If you suffer traumatic brain injury, your risk of having a stroke within three months may increase tenfold, according to a new study reported in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Mild traumatic brain injury may alter brain's neuronal circuit excitability and contribute to brain network dysfunction

May 11, 2012
Even mild head injuries can cause significant abnormalities in brain function that last for several days, which may explain the neurological symptoms experienced by some individuals who have experienced a head injury associated ...

Recommended for you

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

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.