Combat veterans often return home with invisible wounds of war that can go undetected. Research published in December shows that more than half of wounded U.S. service members suffer a form of brain scarring due to blast injures.
According to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, over 300,000 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the past 15 years. Concussions are among the least severe of such injuries, which are mostly caused by bombs.
Researchers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, performed MRI brain scans on 834 active service members with blast-related concussions between 2009 and 2014. The results found brain scarring in 52 percent of injured service members, signs of bleeding in 7 percent and pituitary gland irregularities in one third of patients.
Although MRIs have revealed a high occurrence of brain damage, the technology is too expensive to scan all veterans. Radiologist Dr. Gerard Riedy, the study’s lead author, hopes the findings can result in more accurate diagnoses and targeted treatment of brain injuries. Researchers said they aim to test existing imaging methods and find out which ones accurately identify TBI. A portable version of the exam will then be designed for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the military.
“The current diagnosis is based on subjective information. A diagnosis from an objective method like MRI would greatly enhance the possibility of treating veterans with the correct treatment paradigms,” said Riedy. “The TBI treatments and PTSD treatment paradigms can be vastly different. So in my book an accurate diagnosis is key to any hope at meaningful recovery.”
Distinguishing between TBI and post-traumatic stress (PTS) can be challenging as they are often identified by similar symptoms. However, both conditions require different treatments that can have adverse effects when interchanged. For example, the antidepressants used for treating PTS can prove harmful to people with TBI.