Monday, June 4, 2012

Head Trauma and Brain Injuries in Soldiers

It’s becoming clear that that repeated head trauma in athletes may lead to a form of permanent brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). What about military veterans who have been exposed to blasts from roadside bombs- are they at risk for CTE, too? The answer may be “yes”, because apparently even a single strong blast can cause acute traumatic brain injury, the probable precursor to CTE. The problem of CTE actually may become much more common among veterans than in athletes – there are over 200,000 veterans who have been diagnosed with acute traumatic brain injury. No one knows how many of these veterans might develop CTE later in life.

The military is very interested in understanding how CTE could be prevented, of course. Some interesting clues were found in a recent report on brain injury in an animal model. First, researchers exposed mice to modestly traumatic blasts and documented that the mice later suffered from learning and memory deficits and the physical signs of acute traumatic brain injury. Interestingly, they then found that if they immobilized the mice’s heads during the blast, the injuries did not occur. In other words, it may not be the blast’s shock wave itself that causes the injury. Instead, the secondary high-speed blast wind apparently causes a rapid “bobble-head” movement of the head, and it is this rapid movement that may cause the injury.

I’m not sure how these new findings will lead to better prevention of CTE - perhaps helmets that reduce head movement during a blast?

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