Increase in Psychological, Brain Disorders in Troops

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 22, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Increase in Psychological, Brain Disorders in Troops

Byline: Lee Bowman Scripps Howard News Service

War-zone injuries that don't leave physical scars were responsible for more medical evacuations of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan over a four-year period than combat wounds.

A recent study in the British medical journal Lancet reported that neurological disorders and psychological illness together were responsible for 19 percent of some 34,000 American military evacuations from the Middle East between 2004 and 2007.

The most common reasons for evacs throughout the period were for fractures, tendinitis and other bone and muscle problems that did not occur during combat -- about a quarter of all the transfers to military hospitals in Germany or the U.S. throughout the study period.

But the proportion of evacuations due to noncombat neurological and psychiatric disorders rose considerably between 2004 and 2007 -- from 10 percent to more than 12 percent for neurological conditions and from 5 percent to about 13 percent for psychological conditions.

Spinal pain accounted for another 7 percent of the evacuations. And the researchers, led by Dr. Steven Cohen, a pain specialist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, found that individuals with particular forms of psychiatric illness, such as stress reaction and depression, along with back pain, were less likely than most evacuees to return to duty.

The scientists noted that a number of recent studies have found that patients with anxiety, depression and other psychosocial risk factors are more likely to sustain long-term disability from back and neck pain.

Cohen and his colleagues suggest that the increases in evacuations for stress and brain disorders may be partly a result of cumulative psychological effects from repeat deployments and a greater reliance on Reserve and National Guard units.

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