The rate of combat-related brain injuries in service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan appears to be higher than in other wars. In fact, some people are calling traumatic brain injury the “signature wound” of modern-day combat. These injuries range from mild concussions to unconsciousness, coma, and in some cases, death.
There are several reasons for the increase in TBI. First, there has been a large increase in the number of blast injuries, mainly from land mines, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. There are many different injuries that can occur from a blast, with TBI being one of the most common.
The second reason for the increase in TBI is that people are surviving injuries that would have been fatal in the past. There are two main factors that have resulted in this increased survival. First, large advances in protective equipment allow today’s high-tech body armor to protect vital organs from damage. However, this equipment often cannot protect the brain from the violent movement caused by explosions, sudden jolts or blast waves, which can lead to traumatic brain injury.
Also, huge advances in combat medicine and air evacuation allow immediate access to advanced medical care near the battlefield. This has improved the chances of surviving life-threatening injuries.
A third reason for the increase in the incidence of TBI may be related to the increase in clinical awareness of the condition. As healthcare professionals have become more mindful of the symptoms and the short- and long-term effects of TBI, the likelihood of accurately diagnosing the condition has increased.
It’s important to know that the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration are playing a leading role in researching and effectively treating traumatic brain injury in both civilian and military populations.