Study Links Stress to Soldiers' Maladies
The role of traumatic brain injury – blamed for symptoms plaguing thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq – might be overstated, contends a provocative military study that offers hope for successful treatment.
In many cases, post-traumatic stress and depression may be driving the symptoms, doctors reported Wednesday. And that's good news because those are treatable.
The study by U.S. military doctors was praised by outside experts who found the conclusions convincing.
Returning soldiers have struggled with memory loss, irritability, trouble sleeping and other problems. Many have suffered mild blast-related concussions, but there is no easy way to separate which symptoms are due to physical damage and which are from mental problems caused by the traumatic stress of war. Imaging of the brain is being tested, but hasn't yet proven to be helpful.
The new study, based on a survey of 2,525 soldiers, found that brain injury made traumatic stress more likely. The study tied only one symptom – headaches – specifically to brain injury.
"We found that the symptoms and health concerns that we expected to be due to the concussion actually proved to be more strongly related to PTSD," or post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, said Dr. Charles Hoge, a colonel and psychiatry chief at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research who led the study. "There isn't a clear delineation between a psychological and a physical problem."
In a related story, new technology is helping returning soldiers deal with PTSD.