Early Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress after Blast-related Concussion Good Predictor of Later Disability

A recent study published in the medical journal Brain found a connection between early symptoms of post-traumatic stress and later-life disability in military personnel who suffered blast-related mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) during service.

In the most recent military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense estimated that one-fifth of servicemembers experienced some type of head injury. More than 80 percent of those injuries were mTBI. However, the study suggests that mTBI, commonly known as a concussion, may have long-term effects and that early symptoms may be a strong predictor of later disability.

The study observed 38 servicemembers diagnosed with mTBI from a blast and 34 servicemembers with no brain injury as the control group. Early assessments of both groups examined their symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including repetitive nightmares or recalling disturbing memories, emotional numbness, and mood swings. A follow-up interview was conducted with each patient six to 12 months later.

Later evaluations found 63 percent of the mTBI group was moderately disabled, meaning they could no longer work as they did before and had difficulty continuing relationships with family and friends or could not continue regular social and leisure activities. Only 20 percent of the control group had a moderate disability. “When we were able to connect the dots, we saw that injuries that might have been considered trivial seemed to have a big impact on how these patients did later on,” according to study author Christine L. MacDonald, PhD, of Washington University at the time of the study.

Traditionally, medical professionals and researchers are concerned with headaches and vision disruption, and cognitive effects of a concussion. More recently, researchers and other experts are studying the mental health effects of a concussion on servicemembers in order to reduce the risk of disabling conditions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes the millions of veterans who return from service with service-related injuries or develop health conditions due to their military service. These veterans may be eligible for veterans’ disability benefits through the VA. For help when you are appealing a claim, contact Veterans Help Group®: 1-855-855-8992.