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Interactive Effects of Cumulative Lifetime Traumatic Brain Injuries and Combat Exposure on Posttraumatic Stress among Deployed Military Personnel

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when an individual experiences an impact or jolt to the head immediately followed by a transient loss of consciousness, alteration of consciousness (e.g., feeling dizzy or confused), or disruption of memory. Importantly, a growing body of work suggests that individuals who experience one or more TBIs are at greater risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the majority of this research has focused on the influence of a single TBI while neglecting the potential cumulative effects of incurring multiple TBIs across an individual’s lifetime. The present study addressed this gap using a sample of 157 military service members and 4 civilian contractors were evaluated for TBI at a military hospital in Iraq. Our results indicated that a greater number of lifetime TBIs was associated with greater PTSD symptoms even when accounting for the severity of a recent TBI. Interestingly, we also found that increasing levels of combat exposure yielded greater PTSD symptoms among those with multiple lifetime TBIs compared to those with one or zero lifetime TBIs. These data suggest that soldiers who have experienced multiple TBIs throughout their lifetime may be at greater risk for PTSD in the face of combat exposure, compared to their counterpart without TBI histories. Current efforts to prevent PTSD may take into account the risk conferred by lifetime TBI history by screening and triaging these individuals for preventive care. Moreover, future research should seek to examine specific mechanisms (e.g., cognitive control deficits) explaining these effects to inform the development of targeted interventions to mitigate risk among those with TBI histories.

Read the full paper: Albanese, B. J., Macatee, R. J., Stentz, L. A., Schmidt, N. B., & Bryan, C. J. (in press). Interactive effects of cumulative lifetime traumatic brain injuries and combat exposure on posttraumatic stress among deployed military personnel. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. doi:10.1080/16506073.2018.1478446

Brian Albanese

Photo by: Reece Lodderion

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