Deployment-related traumatic brain injury among Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans: associations with mental and physical health by gender

Katherine M Iverson, Terri K Pogoda, Jaimie L Gradus, Amy E Street
Journal of Women's Health 2013, 22 (3): 267-75

BACKGROUND: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) research among Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans has focused primarily on men. We examine associations between probable deployment-related TBI and postdeployment mental and physical health symptoms separately by gender. To identify unique associations of probable TBI with health symptoms, analyses were also conducted separately for veterans with and without probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

METHODS: A mail survey, including self-report measures of probable deployment-related TBI and mental and physical health symptoms, was completed by 2348 OEF/OIF veterans (51% female), sampled randomly within gender from a national roster. We conducted logistic regressions stratified by gender and probable PTSD status to evaluate associations between probable TBI and health symptoms.

RESULTS: Of the respondents, 10.7% of women and 19.7% of men screened positive for probable deployment-related TBI. Probable TBI was significantly associated with increased risk of mental and physical health symptoms for both genders, even after adjusting for potential confounders. Odds ratios for the associations of probable TBI with health symptoms ranged between 2.63 and 9.20 for women and between 1.94 and 7.44 for men. Among veterans with probable PTSD, symptomatic anxiety and symptomatic physical health remained associated with probable TBI. Among veterans without probable PTSD, TBI remained strongly associated with all health symptoms for women and symptomatic anxiety and physical health for men, suggesting an association between TBI and some health symptoms independent of PTSD.

CONCLUSIONS: Strong associations between probable TBI and health symptoms for women and men confirm the importance of screening for TBI and treatment of associated health symptoms for all OEF/OIF veterans.

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