See Inside December 2008/January 2009

Impact and the Brain

Mild traumatic brain injury represents a silent but brutal plague among combat veterans and a hidden threat to the health of civilians

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As a combat engineer in Iraq, Jeremy was supposed to find roadside bombs. They found him instead. Within 72 hours of each other, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) went off within 15 feet of this father in his late 20s. The first set of blast waves, a moving wall of highly compressed air that emanates from an explosion, knocked him out briefly. The second left him dazed for about 30 minutes and produced ringing in his ears that disappeared within a week. These detonations did not visibly injure Jeremy (not his real name)—but he was never the same.

After his tour in Iraq, Jeremy became more irritable with his spouse and child. At his job as a manager of a national firm, he would get very frustrated when customers were abrupt or business was brisk. Jeremy’s memory had deteriorated, too, and he had to use a daily planner to remind himself of even the most basic tasks. He also had incapacitating headaches, spells of panic or confusion, mood swings, and sensory illusions such as a metallic taste or ringing in his ears. Neuropsychological tests revealed that Jeremy had real deficits in mental processing, attention and short-term verbal memory.

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