DoD to Study Hyperbaric Chambers and TBI

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) have quickly become one of the most prevalent injuries among veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, treatment for TBIs is still being studied and is very much under development.

Approximately 100,000 military personnel have been diagnosed with TBI since 2003. As part of the seemingly endless search for a better treatment method, the Department of Defense (DoD) is hopeful that hyperbaric chambers may be the answer.

Hyperbaric chambers, which are pressurized oxygen chambers, are usually used when a person has suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. The usefulness of hyperbaric chambers and their treatment effectiveness on TBI patients has been studied in the past and a new study is slated to begin in January, 2011.

There has been no conclusive evidence whether hyperbaric chambers can eliminate or even reduce TBI symptoms such as:

  • Headaches;
  • Memory Loss; and
  • Mood swings.

The new TBI treatment study will last approximately 18 months and include 300 volunteers consisting mainly of soldiers and Marines. The study will be conducted by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury and the Army Research and Material Command. The sites that will be participating in the study are:

  • Fort Carson, Colorado;
  • Camp Pendleton, CA;
  • Camp Lejeune, N.C.;
  • Brooks City-Base, Texas, and
  • Fort Hood, Texas (possibly).

Once inside the chambers, participants breathe 100% oxygen at 1.35 atmospheres of pressure. This is the same amount of pressure your body would experience if you dove 20-25 feet under water. In theory, the pressure will cause the oxygen in the brain to dissolve which allows more oxygen to flow through the body and therefore repair damaged tissue. To get a measuring base, the control group will be exposed to a similar amount of pressure but will be given regular air instead of 100% oxygen, which dissolves at the regular rate.

Chambers can house anywhere from 3 to 16 subjects at a time. Every person will sit in the chamber for 1 hour a day, 5 days a week, for a total of 40 sessions. Ideally, the participants in the study will have suffered a TBI within the last 4-6 months and are still healing.

Successfully treating TBIs has been a mystery to date. Hopefully this new study can give some direction as to what needs to, or can be, done for those soldiers and veterans suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

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