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Sean Kendall

Why MRIs and PET scans sometimes don’t reveal veterans’ brain injuries

Nearly 320,000 U.S. troops have incurred traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of them seemingly mild, according to a 2008 report by the RAND Corporation. But these injuries are poorly understood by physicians, and can create long-term mental, physical and emotional problems for veterans, new medical research shows.

The research may help doctors understand why some military personnel exposed to explosions have symptoms of brain injury even though their CT and MRI scans look completely normal.

What Research Has Revealed

Scientists studied 63 veterans wounded by blasts in Iraq or Afghanistan and discovered evidence of brain injuries in some that were too subtle to be detected by standard scans. All of the veterans had already received a diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), which is something like a concussion. This diagnosis was based on them presenting symptoms like having lost consciousness in the explosion, having no recall of the traumatic event or feeling disoriented after the incident, researchers said.

The kind of damage was distinguished from that found in head injuries not caused by combat explosions, Dr. David L. Brody, author of the study, at Washington University in St. Louis, said. If the new findings hold up, he added, they may eventually influence the design of helmets to provide more protection against blasts.

The study was published by The New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers used a special M.R.I. technique, known as diffusion tensor imaging, in their work. The technique is also being studied to help improve the diagnosis of concussions. Changes in brain anatomy can be detected in bundles of thousands of "axons," or fibers that carry electrical signals.

Researchers worked with doctors at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are evacuated for treatment.

Veterans Benefits Following a TBI

If you or a loved one sustained a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan or Iraq, you may be eligible for veterans benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We can help. Veterans affairs lawyer Sean Kendall has been focusing on veterans' claims for more than 20 years. Contact our team today at (303) 449-4773, or toll free at (877) 629-1712. We're based in Colorado, but our team helps veterans all over the U.S., and can take your claim to the special veterans court in Washington D.C. if need be.