Military doctors still struggling to find a proper diagnosis and treatment for TBI
After more than a decade of war, the U.S. military cannot precisely diagnose concussion-related brain injuries resulting from the bomb blasts that are the most common cause of combat casualties.
The mechanism of the injury — how the shock of blast can cause lingering headaches, dizziness, memory loss and insomnia — is not understood either, according to the Pentagon’s top expert on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Without a precise diagnosis or understanding of the injury, the treatment offered by the Pentagon consists mainly of rest and reassurance.
As a result, tens of thousands of Americans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan may have been injured but were never diagnosed properly — or at all. They may be unnecessarily worried for their health. Or, they could be lacking the kind of therapy and other treatment that might help prevent more severe problems later in life.
Most of those who experience a blast-related brain injury recover relatively quickly. Defense Department experts say soldiers will suffer no consequences of the injury. But while some researchers suggest that the lifetime consequences of a blast-related brain injury could be significant, there are no long-term studies on the effects of concussion on combat veterans.
Recognizing the drawbacks of current diagnosis and treatment of mTBI, the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) this week announced a new $100 million research effort to find better ways to diagnose and treat mTBI and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a form of combat trauma with many of the same symptoms as mTBI.
“PTSD and mTBI are two of the most prevalent injuries suffered by our warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and identifying better treatments for those impacted is critical,” Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said in a statement.
But the battlefield toll of brain injury is significant. Since 2003, the military has identified 43,299 service men and women who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and experienced some form of TBI, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. The vast majority of them suffered mTBI.