Study: PTSD signals longer-term health problems
January 3rd, 2011
04:35 PM ET

Study: PTSD signals longer-term health problems

U. S. soldiers who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder  during combat in Iraq were more likely to experience longer-term health problems including depression, headaches, tinnitis, irritability and memory problems compared with soldiers who experienced only concussions without PTSD. The study concludes that screening for PTSD among troops is critical for identifying and treating long-term health problems. The findings are published in the JAMA Archives of General Psychiatry.

Since Operation Desert Storm launched 20  years ago, millions of U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Combat exposure often places troops at risk of suffering psychological trauma and injury when they are exposed to the blasts from improvised explosive devices, according to background information in the study, and traumatic brain injury has often been called the “signature injury” of the conflicts. The study says that most TBIs are mild – better known as concussions. The symptoms of concussion, or MTBI,  include loss of consciousness, loss of memory, dizziness, and headache.

Recognizing the increased risk of MTBI and PTSD, the Department of Defense and the VA have instituted post-deployment screening to identify service members who may require further treatment or evaluation. The researchers explain that while other studies have shown that PTSD is linked to long-term health problems and disability, less is known about the long-term effects of concussion on health problems.

University of Minnesota Medical School and Minneapolis Veterans Affairs health care system researchers surveyed 2,677 soldiers from a U.S. National Guard Brigade Combat Team stationed in Iraq. Participants completed their first questionnaire in 2007, one month before their 16-month deployment ended. They answered questions about whether they had experienced a concussion,  and whether they were experiencing symptoms of PTSD and depression. 1,935 of those who took the first survey agreed to participate in further research. One year after they completed their first survey, the soldiers were mailed a second survey and 953 soldiers responded.

The first survey revealed that 9.2% of soldiers experienced symptoms of concussions and 30.2 percent of those soldiers had probable PTSD at the time of the survey. When they took the second survey, 22 percent of soldiers, twice as many, reported they had experienced concussions and of those, 30.4 percent got a diagnosis of probable PTSD. Reporting PTSD at the time of the first survey was strongly associated with having long-term health problems.

After adjusting for PTSD, the study found that those who experienced concussions without PTSD showed no lingering health effects. However, those with PTSD and MTBI experienced post-concussive symptoms and health problems including depression, irritability, memory problems and headaches.

“The present study is the first, to our knowledge, to show that a history of concussion/MTBI alone does not contribute to long-term impairments in the health and well-being of Operation Iraqi Freedom on veterans," the researchers wrote. "These data showing that PTSD often underlies persisting post-concussion syndrome suggest that early identification and evidence-based treatment of PTSD may be critical to management of post-deployment post-concussion symptoms,” the researchers conclude.

“Although combat-related PTSD was strongly associated with post-concussive symptoms and psychosocial outcomes one year after soldiers return from Iraq, there was little evidence of a long-term negative impact of concussion/mild traumatic brain injury history on these outcomes after accounting for PTSD,” the authors write in their conclusion. “These findings and the two-fold increase in reports of deployment-related concussion/MTBI history have important implications for screening and treatment,” according to the study.

soundoff (249 Responses)
  1. LKT

    Wish they'd do a study on the contractors working in Iraq. My husband worked for 2 years in Iraq (2003 thru 2005) and has returned to civilian life a different man. I think he is suffereing from PTSD from working in Iraq (he lived with solders on military bases). All I have heard regarding military personnel suffering from PTSD, I am experiencing with my husband.

    January 3, 2011 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Been There


      If I may, please seek treatment as soon as possible. The closer in time that PTSD is treated to the event the better. I was diagnosed with PTSD due to severe childhood se*ual abuse and I did not seek help for 32 years. I am beginning to win the battle over my PTSD symptoms, but it has been a very long, difficult road. Studies have shown that the sooner it is addressed the more quickly the symptoms will abate and the healing is more complete.

      I would recommend that he find a therapist that deals with combat related PTSD and is also is skilled in EMDR therapy as well. I wish you the best of luck. PTSD is very difficult to live with – both for the one who suffers from it and for their loved ones.

      Take care.

      January 3, 2011 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
  2. Army guy

    PTSD is the new lower back pain. As an infantryman, I'm appalled by the number of POGS who claim PTSD. I can't think of one person who's claimed it in my infantry company, and they saw real action as opposed to sitting on the FOB and getting coffee at green beans. It's the new thing you can't disprove due to the liability; the only instance of anyone doing it was my old team leader, who wrapped his car around a telephone pole high on prescription drugs he'd been abusing. After he realized what he'd done, he suddenly had PTSD symptoms and magically got out of the army with medical benefits instead of the court martial he deserved.

    If there isn't a concrete way of measuring the effects, it doesn't exist.

    January 3, 2011 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ah

      There are concrete ways (symptom scaled, deficits in memory and reaction times ...), and PTSD does exist. You should be thankful that your thoughts are organized enough to deny this illness, rather thank spending all of your energy trying to function and to maintain a sense of normalcy.

      January 4, 2011 at 02:08 | Report abuse |
    • MarineArtillery

      You are obviously very ignorant for this posting. PTSD is very real and affects many veterans regardless their level of enemy contact. Just being in a war zone heightens and overly stresses the Sympathetic nervous system which has long term mental and physical effects on veterans. Doesn't matter if they were Infantry or not. Stop trying to be a fake tough guy your whole life and realize that PTSD is the cause of daily veteran suicides and a disproportionately high number of veterans without a place to live.

      October 22, 2011 at 14:16 | Report abuse |
    • Tammy

      I agree it is hard to know who truly has PTSD and who does not. But it is not something that should not go untreated, or be ignored. And I would bet at least 30% of the guys you were deployed with will come back with some sort of PTSD or ADS disorder at some point. Whether they admit it or not is on them. I understand the frustration when you think people are faking it to avoid a court martial. But several psychological diagnosis cannot be measured by a single test, but they still exist.

      October 23, 2011 at 13:47 | Report abuse |
    • Hello

      As someone who was in an infantry company, saw combat on an almost daily basis, and suffers from PTSD, you sir are what is wrong with the military.

      October 24, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
  3. Another Army Guy

    I was an Infantryman too, who saw a lot of combat in two tours to Iraq. Several soldiers in my companies admitted to and received treatment for PTSD, including myself. It's real and nothing to be ashamed of.
    If you want a measurement to prove it's real, count how many soldiers have attempted or committed suicide since the war on terror began. Count how many domestic violence cases there have been. Count how many soldiers get involved in drug and alcohol addictions. Count how many just feel like crap on a daily basis and can't get it to stop.
    It is, however, a double edged sword, as many do abuse the system for treating PTSD, as it is hard to prove/disprove. Those who do abuse the system should be ashamed of themselves, and in my opinion, do not deserve to be called soldiers. They take away and dilute the suffering that their borthers are going through.
    It does bother me that someone can "here the gunfire" or "see the fire and smoke" and "know someone just dies out there" and be diagnosed with PTSD and get out on medical (actual quotes I heard people say).
    Bottom line, those of us who say death, experienced it, and dealt it are not the same afterwords. You can't be, it's a life changing experience. Not a day goes by I don't think about what I saw and did out there. And not a day goes by that part of me wished I wasn't still out there. another part of me never wants to be out there again. I struggle with it every day, as many of us do. In the end, we can't rationalize it, cure it, or make it just go away. We just have to live with it.

    January 3, 2011 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • opinionguru

      Sine pare ... best wishes

      January 3, 2011 at 21:46 | Report abuse |
    • another army wife

      Thank you, for being brave enough to share your story and inspire others to come forward with their internal struggles that are so often taboo in the military, as expressed by the ignorance of the previous comment.

      January 4, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse |
    • tom

      Just a note of encouragement – you used the words "just have to live with it" at the conclusion of your post and while that is obviously true and also I can't know exactly what those words and that phrase mean to you just a hopeful reminder – living I believe is always a process of changing (one can't deny at least physical change is always happening), even if it seems glacial or to yo-yo (if you will). You can be and are – however indiscernable it may be at times – changing. Keep working daily to change again. The effort, from my experience, is worth it when the change you are seeking does occur. Good luck to you and all who are seeking. Thank you for your self sacrificing efforts in the past and may you find the strength to contribute more again now and in the future.

      October 24, 2011 at 12:55 | Report abuse |
  4. daughter of a vet

    My dad is a VIetnam Veteran and a Marine who saw heavy action and casualties at war. PTSD is real and I was raised with it. The longer you wait to face it, the worse prognosis you will likely have. When my father returned from war they did not acknowledge PTSD and instead prescribed tranquilizers, which basically suspended him in that same raw mentality for decades. Fast forward many, many years and he has started some treatment/therapy and it makes a difference. But how I wish they had started therapy rather than medicate him so many years ago. Things may have been very different. Although the war will never be in the back of his mind, it would have been nice if it could be at least second. Veterans can't help but to think about those memories constantly, reliving them every day, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to win the war in their mind. I think it could help if all returning veterans are enabled to let it all out... to feel the feelings, express the trauma and grieve over the lost and the fallen, because having to bottle it all up while fighting the war has to be one of the hardest battles of the war. I do, however, agree that there is no "cure". It is something you live with, and there is pride in that. I am proud of my father because he "lives with it" everyday, for his family.

    And to anyone who ever uses this diagnosis as an "easy out", they should be ashamed of themselves. Because the ones that really suffer with it, rarely let you know until it is too late.

    January 3, 2011 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. army wife

    My husband has ptsd. He has been on multiple deployments and has lost friends and comrades within feet of himself. At first I thought things would just get better. But he began drinking and started to lash out and became uber paranoid. So much so that my 3 year old was afraid of crowds. Finally he sought help after I couldn't handle his night terrors anymore. I know that. PTSD is real. I know more spouses who deal with things like this and worse but don't report it.

    January 3, 2011 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Vietnam Vet

    I have done some things that Im not so proud of, seen things that can change a boy into a man in a heartbeat, and i went back for seconds. I can just say Vietnam and I wouldnt have to get into detail about the events that unfolded around me. Do I regret it? Of course. Am I glad Im still alive today? Your damn right I am. What you do during the time of war can alter your perception on life, it can form you into someone you never thought you could be: thats only if you let it. Focus on the times you had before you served your country, let those memories be the focal point to your life after you return. Maybe Im just old-fashioned, but what you do over there, stays over there! God Bless! OOHRA!

    January 4, 2011 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Alex

    misspelled tinnitus

    January 4, 2011 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. CleanLiving87

    More than 7 million Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) every year. Many of them are soldiers who have engaged in combat. Rehabilitation facilities can help individuals suffering from the condition, but a furry friend can be motivational as well. http://bit.ly/gA2V8Y

    January 5, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Guntown Johnny

    @ AnotherArmy Guy: Right on, Soldier! Thanks for serving and don't stop telling your buds that its ok to admit haveing behavioral health issues and getting help. The more warriors who come forward, the more likely our brothers and sisters who are affected will seek treatement as well.

    January 10, 2011 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Pastor

    I'm sure you have heard it many times before, but please except it again from me. Thank you so much for placing yourselves in a position to endure such hardship, misery and pain for your fellow countrymen. You and your loved ones will forever be in my heart and my prayers. Please know you are not alone and may God forever pour His blessing upon your lives. God bless America, its Soliders and their families!

    March 11, 2011 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kilroy

    If you or anyone else suspects that you or someone you love has ptsd, I urge you to seek help anywhere you can as soon as you can. If you don't and you survive the initial wave of despair and all the other sometimes explosive manifestations that accompany this condition, and if you survive the suicide, violence, paranoia, drug addiction, alcoholism, prison etc that can occur as a result of it, you will wind up completely isolated from your loved ones and wondering what happened to your life............I can tell you with absolute certainty that all these things can happen and can be avoided as well if you just get help now............it is too late for me but it is not too late for anyone reading this and it is not too late for all you loved ones out there to help your soldier before he melts down............take my word that there can come a time when he will no longer see the faces of the enemy and the innocents in his dreams...............do your best and good luck.

    October 22, 2011 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kiljoy

    I have had PTSD since Vietnam, it has never been treated.

    October 22, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kilroy

      That would make you my age then.............and I'm sure you are trying to make a point,,,,,,,,could you clarify it for me?

      October 22, 2011 at 22:36 | Report abuse |
  13. Wife of a Vietnam Vet

    http://www.sgtbrandi.com for help.

    October 23, 2011 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jeff

    PTSD is real and painful. I am currently coping with it. For no reason a sudden noise becomes intense. The adrenaline rush causes me to become a heightened sense of alert. The nape of my neck tightens. Like an emotional on and off switch that I cannot control when caught off guard. What I see, hear, smell becomes intensified and leaves me tires and fatigued. It changes my breathing, heartbeat and mind set. It causes me to forget what I need to be doing/ am doing on a regular basis. It attacks my memory with flashbacks and sleep. I was fooling myself for the LONGEST time that I could beat this, but only proved myself a liar. Many people in uniform and veterans are learning to manage and deal with PTSD. Thank you for listening.

    March 23, 2012 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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