A new study suggests that combat vets may suffer irreversible brain damage in war zones from the blasts happening around them. Scientists found that the most affected brain area by the blasts is the cerebellum, which is responsible for movement coordination and emotional stability.
The study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, also reveals that the blasts need to be repeated before permanent brain injury occurs in military men.
Study authors noted that many soldiers who had taken part in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were affected by mild traumatic brain injuries, commonly known as ‘concussions.’ The injuries were so common in this group of combat veterans that they could be used as a signature injury to tell whether a person has been on those two battlefields.
So far, military reports show that over 250,000 combat veterans were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injuries across the planet. Past studies had shown that these injuries are often accompanied by the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The study, which was conducted by a joint team of researchers from the University of Washington and VA Puget Sound, found that the more brain injuries combat vets had the more likely they were to develop irreversible brain damage and chronic disorders.
The team discovered a statistically significant link between repeated blasts in combat zones and persistent dysfunction in service men’s cerebellum, an area of the brain which helps them remain emotionally stable and coordinate movement.
Researchers backed their conclusion with mouse experiments. After they exposed laboratory mice to repeated blasts, computer scans showed that their brain function steadily declined in some areas of the brain as they began losing neurons.
A similar problem, which has been documented several decades ago, is widespread among retired boxers. Elaine Peskind, lead author of the research, noted that both combat vets and retired boxers who were affected by the brain injuries display mood changes, irritability, and emotional instability.
Researchers believe that their findings could help medical research gain a deeper understanding on the link between brain trauma and emotional difficulties in combat veterans worldwide.
Nevertheless, study results were not a surprise to the medical community. Past studies had revealed that armed conflict worldwide often resulted in 14 percent to 20 percent of serving members being affected by traumatic brain injuries in the wake of blasts and explosions.
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