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Modern warfare and the brain

An interesting article was published recently in the New York Times which considers the neuropathology of blast injury. In the US various parties are looking at the physical differences in the brains of those who have experienced blast injury to explain the cognitive issues which result. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Shell Shock, was previously viewed as purely psychological. The resulting problems range from memory issues to depression and sadly sometimes result in suicide. The new research is an enormous step forward indicating evidence for what was previously viewed as a ‘lack of manly vigour and patriotic spirit’.

The studies are looking at how the blast wave — the pulse of compressed air that moves faster than the speed of sound affects brain tissue. Blasts are also believed to compress the sternum and send shock waves through the body’s blood vessels and up into the brain.

The work is being compared to early links between repeated concussion by sports people and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. As with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)  the damage connected to blasts does not appear on any magnetic resonance imaging test or brain scan and can be located only after death.

As with the CTE, researchers have found it an uphill battle to persuade those in the field this is a real issue. One military doctor from the US interrupted a conference presentation on the subject saying ”Stop with this nonsense. If you give soldiers fluid replacement, they’ll do fine after 24 hours, so it’s not this.’ However, the growing body of research and investigation is starting to find a groundswell of support.

Related to this topic, in 2008 UKABIF raised the issue of UK military personnel returning from areas of conflict with ‘mild’ brain injuries.

Please follow this link for the paper produced by the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Medical Services on this subject.