Functional status after blast-plus-impact complex concussive traumatic brain injury in evacuated United States military personnel

Christine L MacDonald, Ann M Johnson, Elliot C Nelson, Nicole J Werner, Raymond Fang, Stephen F Flaherty, David L Brody
Journal of Neurotrauma 2014 May 15, 31 (10): 889-98
Fundamental questions remain unanswered about the longitudinal impact of blast-plus-impact complex traumatic brain injuries (TBI) from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This prospective, observational study investigated measures of clinical outcome in US military personnel evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany after such "blast-plus" concussive TBIs. Glasgow Outcome Scale-Extended assessments completed 6-12 months after injury indicated a moderate overall disability in 41/47 (87%) blast-plus TBI subjects and a substantial but smaller number (11/18, 61%, p=0.018) of demographically similar US military controls without TBI evacuated for other medical reasons. Cognitive function assessed with a neuropsychological test battery was not different between blast-plus TBI subjects and controls; performance of both groups was generally in the normal range. No subject was found to have focal neurological deficits. However, 29/47 (57%) of blast-plus subjects with TBI met all criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) versus 5/18 (28%) of controls (p=0.014). PTSD was highly associated with overall disability; 31/34 patients with PTSD versus 19/31 patients who did not meet full PTSD criteria had moderate to severe disability (p=0.0003). Symptoms of depression were also more severe in the TBI group (p=0.05), and highly correlated with PTSD severity (r=0.86, p<0.0001). Thus, in summary, high rates of PTSD and depression but not cognitive impairment or focal neurological deficits were observed 6-12 months after concussive blast-plus-impact complex TBI. Overall disability was substantially greater than typically reported in civilian non-blast concussive ("mild") patients with TBI, even with polytrauma. The relationship between these clinical outcomes and specific blast-related aspects of brain injuries versus other combat-related factors remains unknown.

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