Military service members could experience worsening outcomes after mild blast concussion

U.S. military service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, who suffered a mild concussion from a blast injury, continued to experience mental health symptoms and a decrease in quality of life for at least 5 years after the incident, according to research published in JAMA Neurology.

“This is one of the first studies to connect the dots from injury to longer-term outcomes and it shows that mild concussions can lead to long-term impairment and continued decline in satisfaction with life,” Christine L. Mac Donald, PhD, lead author and associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a press release. “Most physicians believe patients will stabilize 6 [months] to 12 months post-injury, but this study shows progression of post-concussive symptoms well after this time frame.”

The researchers studied 5-year outcomes in 50 service members who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, and compared them to 44 control participants who deployed but were not injured, according to the release. Mac Donald and her team studied the participants with traumatic brain injury and noted changes in symptoms for the first 5 years after their injury.

As part of the study, the service members completed neurological and neuropsychological assessments and tests of overall functional ability to return to work and live independently. According to the researchers, although 80% of service members with concussions had sought treatment from mental health providers, only 19% reported that they were helpful.

In addition, the researchers reported that factors including neurobehavioral symptom severity, walking ability and verbal fluency at 1 year after injury was highly predictive of poor outcomes 5 years later.

“We need to identify effective, long-term treatment strategies that will help these brave men and women enjoy the highest possible quality of life following their service to our country,” Walter Koroshetz, MD, director of the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said in the release. “This unique academic-military partnership highlights the power of data sharing and cutting across traditional boundaries to advance research that will help improve the lives of our military members.”


Mac Donald CL, et al. JAMA Neurol. 2017;doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.0143.

Disclosure: The researchers report funding from the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Department of Defense.

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