An Oxford University-led study has found that survivors of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are 3 times more likely to die prematurely than the general population. What’s worse, the study found that people with TBI often die from suicide or fatal accidents.
The study, “Suicide, Fatal Injuries, and Other Causes of Premature Mortality in Patients With Traumatic Brain Injury” was carried out by researchers at Oxford University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
The researchers examined medical records going back 41 years covering 218,300 TBI survivors, 150,513 siblings of TBI survivors, and more than two million control cases matched by sex and age from the general population in Sweden.
Although the study did not include any American troops, the results of the study are extremely important to our understanding of what the troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are going through.
According to the Department of Defense, more than 266,000 members of the military have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from 2000 to 2012.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is defined as a disruption of the normal function of the brain, caused by a violent blow or jolt to the head or by a penetrating head injury.
The blow to the head that causes the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) could come from the explosion of an improvised Explosive Device (IED), a helicopter or airplane crash, or an automobile accident.
Traumatic Brain Injuries range in severity from mild to severe. A concussion is a mild TBI, while severe TBI involves an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.
In Afghanistan, severe TBI is often caused by a bullet or shrapnel wound, and can lead to a coma. Mild and moderate forms of TBI are often caused by close proximity to an explosion such as a mortar attack or roadside bomb.
Symptoms of a TBI typically are divided into three basic categories:
- Cognitive, such as issues with memory and attention;
- Emotional, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD);
- Physiological, including headaches, dizziness, and problems sleeping.
Some symptoms of traumatic brain injury, like loss of consciousness, seizures, and loss of coordination show up immediately, while other symptoms may not be noticeable for weeks or months.
- Changes in personality
- Weakness in extremities
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor impulse control
- Anger or violent behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
Invisible wounds take longer to heal.
The Oxford University / Karolinska Institute study defined premature deaths, “As before age 56. The main causes of premature death in TBI survivors are suicide and fatal injuries such as car accidents and falls.”
The study found that, ‘”TBI survivors are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as unaffected siblings.”
The study also “found that people who survive six months after TBI remain three times more likely to die prematurely than the control population and 2.6 times more likely to die than unaffected siblings.”
Dr. Seena Fazel, one of the authors of the study, says that, “The exact reasons for the increased risk of premature death are unknown but may involve damage to the parts of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making and risk taking. TBI survivors are three times more likely to die from fatal injuries which may be a result of impaired judgment or reactions.”
“This study highlights the important and as-yet unanswered question of why TBI survivors are more likely to die young, but it may be that serious brain trauma has lasting effects on people’s judgment,”
Answering that question is where Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) comes to the forefront.
Approximately 2 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and 266,000 of those troops returned home with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
That means 13.3% of the American troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have to a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and we’re only just beginning to realize what the long-term consequences are.
Last month, a study of 1,648 Marines who had deployed to Afghanistan between 2008 and 2012, has found that the Marines who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in Afghanistan have a much higher rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The Department of veterans Affairs says that suggests that 10% to 18% of the American troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to have PTSD after they return home.
That’s 200,000 to 360,000 young men and women, so no matter how you slice the numbers, a lot of Iraq and Afghan War veterans need help coping with TBI and PTSD, and they need it now.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are called the invisible wounds of war because you can’t see the wounds from the outside.
Although TBI and PTSD leave no visible scars on the body, they cause devastating damage to the brain.