Because mild TBI has become known as the “signature wound” of modern warfare, medical personnel at field hospitals are more aware of the symptoms of traumatic brain injury and the value of early battlefield treatment. If the injury is found and treated early, most patients can recover normal or near normal brain function.
Treatment of service members can be organized into four different areas:
- Treatment of symptoms
- Guidance about resting and returning to duty
- Education, and
- Supportive therapy
Whenever possible, field hospitals are conducting tests for TBI early in the treatment of combat injuries. Often this testing begins with simple questions such as “What happened?”, or “Was there any period of time that you do not remember what happened?” These questions can help determine if the patient has a concussion or mild form of traumatic brain injury.
In many cases, medical personnel will prescribe medications to help reduce the symptoms of mild TBI, and make the following suggestions to service members:
- If possible, cut back on work and duties for a week or two
- Get plenty of rest
- Stay away from alcohol and non-prescribed drugs
- Avoid activities that might end up in another concussion until symptoms are controlled
- Simplify life and activities
- Write things down
- Do one thing at a time
- Eat healthy food, and
- Stretch, keeping the body moving
In many cases, due to the importance of the unit’s mission, cutting back on duties and “taking it easy” are not possible in a combat setting. However, steps are being taken to make certain that service members get the best possible treatment in the field.
Patients who have no symptoms should be physically tested before returning to duty. This exertional testing may include sit-ups, push-ups or running in place for 5 minutes. If the TBI symptoms return after testing, then continued observation and retesting in 24 - 48 hours is suggested. A patient with mild TBI should not return to full duty until all symptoms of the injury are controlled.
Although mission completion is crucial, whenever possible, service members need to take it easy, get lots of sleep and avoid a second head injury while their brain is recovering. In most cases, the brain can recover from one mild traumatic brain injury. Another TBI soon after the first one, can cause a snowball effect, making the symptoms worse than after the first concussion alone, and the recovery more difficult.