Military Seeks Better Concussion Detection

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Military Seeks Better Concussion Detection

HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Battlefield medics will soon conduct mandatory examinations of service members who may have sustained concussions instead of waiting for them to complain of symptoms, the military's brain-injury experts said Wednesday.

The medical leaders developing new guidelines say early diagnosis will lead to better treatment and tracking of concussions, the most common form of traumatic brain injury from the improvised bombs used by militants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like the National Football League, the military aims to reduce the cumulative effects of multiple concussions, speakers said. Military researchers are even looking to the NFL for better helmet ideas, said Air Force Col. Michael Jaffee, director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

Quick, effective treatment of concussions also aids a swift return to duty by fighters who might be reluctant to report their symptoms under current rules, the medical experts said.

"What we hope is that these efforts ensure that every service member that does sustain a possible concussion, or is diagnosed with concussion, gets early detection, the initial treatment they need and then a very rapid return to duty," said Lt. Col. Lynne Lowe, manager of the Army Traumatic Brain Injury Program.

Researchers in 2006 estimated that up to 28 percent of U.S. military personnel sustained at least a minor brain injury, such as a concussion, while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the number who reported their symptoms ranged from just 15 percent in a 2008 Army study to 19 percent in a 2008 Rand Corp. study.

Officials expect the new guidelines to be issued by late May.

Cmdr. Frederick "Fritz" Kass, director of clinical programs for the Marine Corps, acknowledged difficulty in deciding who must be tested.

"We're still working on the science to better define who's at greatest risk," Kass said.

Brain injuries that aren't quickly diagnosed sometimes show up among veterans as memory loss, irritability and other symptoms that can also indicate post-traumatic stress disorder. Adrian Atizado, assistant national legislative director for the Disabled American Veterans, said early diagnosis and recording of concussions is important so veterans can get proper treatment.

He also said that while service members may be eager to get back in the fight after a concussion, medical workers and commanders should use caution in returning them to the front.

"There are lot of unanswered questions about the effect of multiple concussion," Atizado said. "If they go back to the front line and their symptoms are not fully healed, it can actually have a synergistic effect if they have another concussion or another blast injury."

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