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Stress increases post head injuries

In a recent study conducted on the U.S. combat veterans returning from the Iraq war it has been found that the cases of the post traumatic stress increase after a head injury incurred during the war.

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In the study, tests were conducted on 2,525 veterans within four months of their comeback after at least a year of deployment. The military had been continuously getting reports of various symptoms like frequent slips of mind, headaches, poor sleep and balance problems. So, this effort comes as a first major step to check the effects of concussions.

A concussion is an injury from a blow or shock to the head that causes temporary confusion or loss of consciousness, without any visible brain damage. Nearly 15 percent of soldiers reported an injury during deployment that involved loss of consciousness or altered mental status. One-third of that 15 percent had blacked out when they got injured.

The report says that the veterans are also at a higher risk for the stress disorder, PTSD with the symptoms being irritability, sleep problems and flashbacks.

"We thought the symptoms would be related to concussion, but they turned out to be most strongly related to PTSD," said Dr. Charles Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

It was also observed that if a soldier lost consciousness, it tripled the risk of PTSD and increased the chance of major depression by almost four times. The soldiers faced with the heaviest combat were nearly 12 times more likely to be affected by PTSD than those who saw the least amount of action.

The data shows that 43.9% of soldiers who reported loss of consciousness met the criteria for PTSD, in comparison to 27.3% of those with altered mental status, 16.25% of the ones with other injuries, and 9.1 percent of those with no injuries.

The long war in Iraq and Afghanistan has caused the stress levels to rise in the troops. This has also led to a very abnormal increase in the suicide rate. From a suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001, the lowest rate on record, the Army reached an all-time high of 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2006.

Brian Levine, a neuropsychologist at the Rotman Research Institute and the University of Toronto appreciated the efforts of the researchers and said that this study is a very good step. But, now that the prevalence of combat concussions is better known, the next step should be to assess troops’ cognitive functioning early on and track it over time, before and after combat.

This could help in taking better measures to control such situations and thus improving the overall health of the troops.

Some people like Richard Bryant of Australia's University of New South Wales think that this study might create an impression among the troops that the ones having mild traumatic brain injury face a greater risk of health problems, thus damaging the morale of the troops. Thus they should not be led to believe that a concussion or similar problem will produce permanent damage.