Scientists Look For Physical Proof of “Invisible Injuries”

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Two injuries are associated with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan than any others. According to the New York Times, roughly a half a million veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI), and there are likely many injured soldiers that have been missed.

Both of these injuries are diagnosed almost entirely through self-reported symptoms. For every case of severe TBI, which is usually easily diagnosed, there are dozens who have no physical symptoms. Once time has passed, there is no physical trace of the actual damage, but symptoms can persist for years.

If a soldier hasn’t been diagnosed, but is dealing with anxiety, vision problems, irritability, sleep problems, headaches, or a number of other issues, doctors are forced to guess at PTSD or TBI based on symptoms reported by the patient. These two disorders happen to have very similar symptoms, making an entirely confident diagnosis very difficult.

There may however be biological signals we are missing that leave objective evidence for these injuries. Doctors and researchers out of New York University’s medical school are looking for these biomarkers, in a five year study hoping to establish a physical signal for easier diagnosis.

There is significant skepticism for whether these biomarkers exist for mental disorders like PTSD or mild traumatic brain injury, but one of the biggest brain injury related news stories lately says that a biomarker has been found that is linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury related to repeated TBI.

Despite the doubt and criticism the team is facing, there is also a strong push to find objective evidence for these two highly common problems for veterans. TBI is called the signature injury of the Iraq war, and PTSD has long been associated with military service. Yet, we have not managed to provide objective, scientific treatment for these veterans. Anything that may be able to provide a more concrete treatment plan for the men and women who are serving the country will be warmly welcomed.

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