Filed under: Concussion
Between 2000 and 2015, more than 339,000 service members sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) conflicts. The first step to care is being able to recognize symptoms, especially for less obvious TBIs. While service members are at greater risk than their civilian counterparts, TBI is not just a military injury. Over 2.2 million American civilians are treated each year for TBI. Leading causes include falls and automobile accidents. In theater, blasts account for most TBIs. Each injury is unique, and each person’s road to recovery is different.
TBI involves alteration of brain function caused by an external physical force. A penetrating TBI is usually obvious, such as a bullet or stab wound to the head. Closed injuries sometimes aren’t so apparent: These include blast injuries, falls, vehicle crashes, and head-to-head collisions (such as on an athletic field).
Severity depends on the amount of brain tissue injured and ranges from mild to severe. Impairment can be physical, cognitive, sensory, and/or emotional.
About 82% of TBIs sustained in OIF/OEF conflicts were labeled mild (mTBI, also referred to as concussion). The most common symptom is headache. Other symptoms include dizziness, sleep disturbances, fatigue, attention and memory problems, irritability, and changes in vision, balance, and mood. However, symptoms can be subtle, and patients often don’t seek medical help for weeks or months after the injury occurred.
Most mTBI patients recover fully. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) “Blast Injuries” web page offers good advice for recovering from blast-induced mTBI.
Recovery from moderate-to-severe TBI usually requires treatment at a rehabilitation hospital. The goals are to improve function and promote independence and re-integration into the community. Progress can be slow, but change and improvement can continue for years.
Health.mil offers resources for both patients and clinicians. DVBIC’s A Head for the Future website provides educational materials to encourage prevention and promote recognition and treatment of TBI in the military.
If you suffer from concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), don’t be tempted to turn to dietary supplements to help you get back on the field. Several dietary supplement manufacturers have promoted products to help with recovery from concussions and TBIs, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support these claims. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is monitoring this issue and contacting specific companies making claims that their products can prevent, treat, or cure concussions.
FDA warns consumers to avoid using products that claim to prevent or treat a concussion or TBI. For more information about these claims and FDA’s response, see this Consumer Update.
Returning to duty after a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI; also referred to as acute concussion) requires a special recovery process. Until now, procedures used by military healthcare professionals were largely based on sports-related mTBI practices, which are not always appropriate for returning Warfighters to military activities and demands. Medical and military experts worked together to develop new recommendations for returning service members to military activity after mild traumatic brain injury. The six-step process includes progressing from rest through light to moderate activity and exercise and eventually to unrestricted activity. Patients cannot progress until they are symptom free at any given stage in the process. Almost 84% of military brain injuries in 2014 were from mTBI/concussions. Some of the most common causes of concussions occur in non-deployed setting. While not all mTBI/concussions are preventable, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk in your day-to-day life:
- Always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle.
- Wear a helmet when suitable (for example, on a bicycle or motorcycle).
- Create safe living spaces to reduce falls. Remove or secure potentially hazardous items from floors and overhead.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Try these Mind Tactics Performance Strategies to improve your ability to control your attention.