Bombs’ hidden impact: The brain war
Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 23, 2011
Sharon Weinberger at NatureNews September 21, 2011
Wartime explosions may be creating an epidemic of brain damage — and a major challenge for scientists.
an increasing body of evidence suggests that the repeated concussions have left them with an invisible, subcellular-level form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that not only impairs their day-to-day functioning, but also increases their long-term risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases
To Burt, the blasts he experienced in Afghanistan eventually became a kind of music. The detonation of C4 and other such military-grade explosives felt like extremely high notes — painful, yet over quickly. But blasts from bombs made out of fertilizer — a favourite of Afghan insurgents — were like standing next to a speaker at a rock concert: the dull bass thuds didn’t necessarily hurt, but they would reverberate through his body like a wave, and stay with him for a long time afterwards.
They’re with him still. Burt, who asks that his real name not be used, spent four months as a tactical adviser to a US military bomb-disposal unit in Afghanistan, during which he was within 50 metres of a detonating improvised explosive device (IED) more than 18 times. His sleeping problems began even before he left. So did the headaches, the ringing in his ears and the nausea. He started to forget things — a problem that got even worse after he returned home. Burt would find himself in a room in his house and wonder why he was there. One time, he told his wife they should try a new restaurant in town. She replied that they had eaten there with friends just a few days before
As recently as two years ago, this constellation of symptoms might have been diagnosed as a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychological condition that can be caused by the constant stress of being in combat. But Burt, now on medical leave, blames those low notes. He is convinced that the body-shaking blasts did something to his brain. And many doctors, medical researchers and military officials have come to believe he is right.
The visible toll of insurgent-made IEDs has been awful enough. In the ten years since military operations began in Afghanistan and then Iraq, IEDs have killed more than 3,000 US and allied troops, and wounded roughly ten times that number. But many more troops have been exposed to multiple blasts and not suffered any visible physical injuries. Like Burt, they often report an array of symptoms, ranging from sleep disturbance to problems concentrating. And an increasing body of evidence suggests that the repeated concussions have left them with an invisible, subcellular-level form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that not only impairs their day-to-day functioning, but also increases their long-term risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.