Saturday, August 25, 2007

Army Scans Brains For War Wounds

Brain In The News

Army to Use Scans to Find Bomb Injuries

<< Back to indexAugust 25, 2007
By Daniel G. Amen M.D.   

Recently, I taught a brain-imaging continuing education seminar for physicians. One of those in attendance was an Army doctor from Fort Lewis in Washington state. He commented on the large number of brain-injured returning Iraq war vets. According to him, while the soldiers’ protective equipment is doing a good job of saving lives, the concussive injuries from the roadside bombs are causing severe trauma to the brain.
Now, the Army is beginning to embrace the same SPECT brain-imaging technology we use to help detect these wounds, many of which would have gone previously unseen or misdiagnosed in days past. Here’s a recent related story from the Associated Press…

Army to Use Scans to Find Bomb Injuries
The Associated Press

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The Army, faced with thousands of cases of brain injury from the Iraq war, will soon begin testing brain scanning equipment in hopes of finding a more accurate way to identify hard-to-diagnose wounds, the commander of the post hospital on this Colorado base said Monday.
To date, the Army has not extensively used neuroimaging equipment to detect brain injuries in returning soldiers because not enough testing has been done to judge the technology's effectiveness.
But Fort Carson will soon test a brain scan procedure that uses gamma rays along with radioisotopes, said Col. John Cho, commander of the Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson. The tests will be conducted on Fort Carson units returning from Iraq, he said.
The move comes as an interagency task force, headed by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, released a report Monday saying injured soldiers and veterans will get more screenings for brain injury.
It also comes after a recent study at Fort Collins found that 18 percent of troops who had been to Iraq - 2,392 of 13,400 - suffered at least some brain damage from the blasts of improvised explosive devices.
Currently, doctors often must rely on questioning soldiers to determine if they've suffered brain damage in battle. Cho said that isn't good enough; many injured show no symptoms, while other symptoms can mirror other conditions. "How do you determine that someone has actually has a traumatic brain injury other than asking the soldier?" Cho said in an interview Monday.
Such verbal tests are subject to failure for many reasons: the soldier may not remember, may deliberately withhold information to avoid being discharged, or may not yet be feeling the effects of injury.
Stephen Robinson of Veterans for America, an organization that has accused the Army of discharging soldiers with brain damage while determining they have personality disorders, was pleased with the announcement. "After two years of us complaining, they are going to do something," Robinson said.
Lt. Col. Reed Smith, head of nuclear medicine at the Evans hospital, said his staff will be receiving a new scanning camera known as a SPECT (single photo emission computerized tomography) within two weeks.
Fort Carson will use soldiers who have already been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury to test the technology and rate its effectiveness, Cho said. Results will be delivered to an Army review board.
"We feel that we that we can move forward on behalf of the Army and for soldiers faster than other places," Cho said. "Hopefully it will identify a marker that can help diagnose brain damage."
"Obviously this is potentially a very positive thing. They are taking head injuries seriously. They are looking for a technology that will detect it," said Dr. P. Stephen Macedo, a Washington, D.C.-based neurologist and former doctor with the Veterans Administration
I’m grateful to see that we’re using this technology to help our returning vets. My hope is that accurate diagnosis and effective treatment will help lessen the pain for those who’ve already sacrificed so much.
To Your Brain Health,
Daniel Amen, M.D.
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

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