Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is often called the signature wound of soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It happens when a sudden trauma, head injury, blast or jolt disrupts the function of the brain. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have caused tens of thousands of these brain injuries in recent conflicts, according to the US Military.
The range of symptoms can vary from severe head trauma involving the loss of consciousness and seizures to more mild damage resulting in confusion, memory loss, headaches and disorientation. Sometimes the symptoms are immediate, but for others, it can take weeks or even months before any physical or mental symptoms appear.
Changes in a person's behavior, cognition, memory, and ability to pay attention can all have a profound and lasting impact — not only for the patient, but also for friends and family.
Sometimes, the symptoms of a TBI can mirror the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a disorder that is also relatively common among combat veterans — making diagnosis and understanding even more important.
Neurologists say repeated, mild injuries from blasts — without allowing the brain time to heal — can cause permanent damage. This may also raise the risk of developing brain problems like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease later in life.
But researchers are making efforts that could one day help them more accurately diagnose TBIs — even the invisible ones that may not appear on a brain scan. Check out the dailyRx News feature video for the full story.