Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, it appears hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments offer no significant benefit to patients suffering from mild brain injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans. A study published last week by the Pentagon and Department of Veteran Affairs and reported by USA Today debunks the potential treatment.
David Cifu, VA national director for physical medicine and rehabilitation services said, “There’s no magic bullet. We wished it worked… But it didn’t work.”
The loss of this potential treatment option leaves the military and VA without any tools for directly treating these brain injuries suffered by tens of thousands of veterans overseas. Traumatic brain injuries were so common in Iraq and Afghanistan it is often referred to as the “signature injury” of the two wars. Current estimates say more than 230,000 soldiers have suffered a mild TBI since 2000.
There have been positive reports of the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers to treat traumatic brain injury from private doctors and patients, but as of yet there are no scientific studies to support the claims except some research suggesting the treatment may in fact improve the case of survival in the cases of severe brain injury.
Those supporting the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers say that breathing pure pressurized oxygen raises oxygen levels in the brain, stimulating the repair of damaged cells and improving brain function and overall health. It has even garnered the support of several members of Congress despite adequate research in support of the treatment.
That exact issue is what prompted the Pentagon and VA to begin a series of four research efforts beginning in 2009. The study published last week in the Journal of Head and Trauma Rehabilitation is the second of the studies. The first study, published in 2009, also found the treatment did not offer significant benefits.
The most recent study examined 60 Marines who had suffered mild brain injuries from exposure to roadside bombs, mortars, or rocket-propelled grenades. Some were given various pressurized levels of oxygen, while others were given pressurized levels of normal air as a control group. The results showed no differences between the groups.