Traumatic brain injury may be called the signature injury of veterans coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean we understand the cause and effects of the injury better than other common injuries for soldiers. We are only now beginning to notice the true toll of brain injuries as the wars wind down and more soldiers are able to return home.
The latest discovery from observing these veterans is that a shockingly large number of veterans with mild brain injuries are potentially suffering a little-known neurological condition that leads to exaggerated and uncontrollable emotional responses such as crying or laughing. In a recent survey of hundreds of veterans with mild brain injuries, over 60 percent reported struggling with the condition.
“We were little surprised by the findings for this population,” said Regina McGlinchey, director of the Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders at a VA hospital in Boston. “We didn’t expect to see that high of a prevalence.”
Even more worrying, McGlinchey says it is possible that many combat veterans suffer from the affliction but refuse to talk about it.
The research was conducted by sending out an e-mail survey to thousands of veterans in the New England area who had tested positive for mild traumatic brain injury after being previously screened by the VA. In total, 758 veterans responded to the survey.
The results showed that sixty percent of those with mild TBI cases reported suffering from the pseudobulbar affect, better known as PBA. PBA is a neurological condition associated with other ailments such as TBI, ALS, Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is characterized only by involuntary episodes of laughter or crying.
“This is not a psychiatric issue. It’s a neurological issue,” McGlinchey said. “The debilitating part is that those outbursts can really occur in socially inappropriate times. It’s very difficult on families and obviously on the patients themselves. … It just gives us another piece of the puzzle and helps us understand a little bit better the range of problems the TBI cohort has.”