Traumatic brain injury is the signature wound that our military veterans have encountered. But what has not been fully recognized is that it is not just traumatic brain injury that occurs, causing concussion.
There is also blast exposure, which creates the same kind of over-pressure and quick release that scuba divers sometimes encounter, leading to an ailment called “the bends.”
The bends causes air bubbles in the vascular system that go to the brain and create damage. Experimental animal data has showed that exposure even to machine gun fire and anti-tank fire can produce the same pattern of air bubbles in the vascular system.
It has not been as well recognized that traumatic brain injury is a very common problem in the civilian population. We have the multiple automobile accidents, and there is growing data on traumatic brain injuries from sports, particularly in football.
If you know how to look for it, you can document the brain injury from blast exposure and other traumatic situations through the use of SPECT brain scanning.
In the centers where I am a consultant for hyperbaric programs, we have treated vets that were told that their symptomatology was all psychological based on CT and MRI studies.
But when we obtained a SPECT brain scan, we found that there actually was significant brain injury that could be analyzed after hyperbaric oxygen therapy to objectively document clinical improvement.
What is not appreciated is that the SPECT brain scan is really predominantly a measure of brain function. A tracer is administered and then you wait 45 minutes to obtain the images to permit the normally functioning brain cells to concentrate the tracer to produce a normal pattern.
With the injuries to the brain, we frequently have what Dr. Richard Newbauer called “idling neurons,” brain cells that are alive but, due to lack of adequate oxygenation, are not functioning in a normal manner.
This is where the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has been very effective in treating traumatic brain injury. We have a number of vets that have done very well with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, and we have been able to document the clinical improvement with the SPECT brain scans.
One vet who had no physical injury, but only 40 blast exposures was so psychologically mixed up that he was on seven psychiatric drugs and still attempted suicide.
With Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, his symptoms markedly improved. He was able to get off of all of the psychiatric drugs and the improvement was documented with the SPECT brain scan.
The young man’s mother said “thank you for giving me back my son.” Since undergoing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, he has become an honor student in college.
Recently, there has been the news about the improvement of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath due to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
The recognition of the value of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy appears finally to be recognized. I understand that the Veterans’ Administration (VA) has now approved Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a treatment for vets with traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
Hopefully, with the increased recognition of the value of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, it will be possible to increase its use in patients with traumatic brain injury — both in the military and among the civilian population.
This therapy produces significant improvement, and based on the three-year follow-up with a number of patients, the improvement continues.
Posts by William Maxfield, M.D.
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