Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have unfortunately resulted in an increased number of veterans who have experienced Traumatic Brain Injuries, also known as TBIs. In fact, Traumatic Brain Injury has often been called the "signature wound" of these wars. According to the Department of Defense and the Veterans' Brain Injury Center, 22% of all combat casualties from these conflicts are brain injuries. In the military population, the primary cause of TBIs are from blasts, motor vehicle accidents, and gunshot wounds. And those at greatest risk are young men performing military duties who may have a history of prior concussion or substance abuse.
TBI is defined as when a sudden injury, such as a blow or a trauma to the head interrupts the normal functioning of the brain. Symptoms of a brain injury may be visible right away, or may not surface until weeks or even months after the initial injury.
There are different categories of TBIs. The most common form of TBI in the military is mild concussion. This is a brief loss of consciousness or confusion which can last for up to 30 minutes. A mild concussion may not even show up on a CAT scan or MRI. Some of the more common symptoms are lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision, ears ringing, an unusual taste in the mouth, and interruption of normal sleep patterns.
Loss of consciousness for more than 30 minutes, or amnesia after the accident, is classified as Severe Traumatic Brain Injury. The symptoms in this case are more severe, such as a headache that worsens over time or won't go away, weakness or numbness in the arms or legs, slurred speech, dilated pupils, and loss of coordination.
Recovery from a brain injury, whether mild or severe, varies greatly among individuals and depends on various factors, including how severe the injury is and whether the patient has a history of prior concussion(s). Immediate medical treatment is always necessary for preventing further damage and stabilizing the patient. In cases of severe brain injury, surgery may be required to relieve swelling to the brain and to remove or repair any ruptured blood vessels. Medication is available to assist with resulting issues of chronic pain, depression, seizures, and headaches.
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