Brain Injuries Difficult to Diagnose in U.S. Troops

Article excerpt

CAMP PENDLETON, CALIF. -- Brain injuries may be the most common wounds suffered by American troops in Iraq, but they can also be the most difficult to diagnose, Mark McDonough, Ph.D., said at an international conference on civilian and military combat stress.

Such trauma is tough to spot on CT scans and can often result in soldiers or Marines wrongly thinking that they have emerged from a roadside bombing or ambush relatively unscathed, said Dr. McDonough, a clinical neuropsychologist in Encinitas, Calif., who specializes in brain injuries and rehabilitation.

"They're next to a blast, but nothing happened to them," he said. "There's no fragmentation [shrapnel]; their arms are not blown off; they don't have missiles in their chests. They look fit for duty, but that is not necessarily the case."

Soldiers often suffer multiple concussions, and the effects can be cumulative. "I think we're dealing with the signature injury of this war, which is going to be the traumatic brain injury," he observed. "But I don't think we have a clue as to how many people have actually suffered through these injuries."

Modern Kevlar helmets are far better able to prevent penetrating head wounds than are the steel models worn from World War I through the Vietnam era, but they are not as effective in protecting the brain from closed injuries, he said. …

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