JOURNAL ARTICLE

Symptoms of post-concussional syndrome are non-specifically related to mild traumatic brain injury in UK Armed Forces personnel on return from deployment in Iraq: an analysis of self-reported data

N T Fear, E Jones, M Groom, N Greenberg, L Hull, T J Hodgetts, S Wessely
Psychological Medicine 2009, 39 (8): 1379-87
18945380

BACKGROUND: Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is being claimed as the 'signature' injury of the Iraq war, and is believed to be the cause of long-term symptomatic ill health (post-concussional syndrome; PCS) in an unknown proportion of military personnel.

METHOD: We analysed cross-sectional data from a large, randomly selected cohort of UK military personnel deployed to Iraq (n=5869). Two markers of PCS were generated: 'PCS symptoms' (indicating the presence of mTBI-related symptoms: none, 1-2, 3+) and 'PCS symptom severity' (indicating the presence of mTBI-related symptoms at either a moderate or severe level of severity: none, 1-2, 3+).

RESULTS: PCS symptoms and PCS symptom severity were associated with self-reported exposure to blast whilst in a combat zone. However, the same symptoms were also associated with other in-theatre exposures such as potential exposure to depleted uranium and aiding the wounded. Strong associations were apparent between having PCS symptoms and other health outcomes, in particular being a post-traumatic stress disorder or General Health Questionnaire case.

CONCLUSIONS: PCS symptoms are common and some are related to exposures such as blast injury. However, this association is not specific, and the same symptom complex is also related to numerous other risk factors and exposures. Post-deployment screening for PCS and/or mTBI in the absence of contemporaneous recording of exposure is likely to be fraught with hazards.

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