Study examines whether military air evacuation exacerbates tbis

Thanks to the efforts of researchers, we continue to learn more about traumatic brain injuries, including some of the causes of this devastating condition and some of the viable treatment options. In fact, a group of researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine recently completed a study that could have a profound impact on how military personnel who suffer TBIs are treated going forward.

Recognizing that over 330,000 service members suffered TBIs while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 15 years, making it one of the primary causes of disability and death, the researchers sought to determine whether the current treatment protocol for TBI patients in the military — namely rapid air evacuation — is causing more harm than good.

In general, those men and women who sustain TBIs on the frontlines are briefly stabilized at field hospitals before being loaded onto military transport aircraft to be medevaced to Germany for more comprehensive treatment and ultimately flown back to the U.S.

As part of their study, the researchers set out to determine whether this rapid air evacuation protocol and the accompanying cabin pressurization changes experienced by TBI patients onboard the aircraft can actually exacerbate their condition.

In order to accomplish this, they placed lab rats with TBIs similar to those sustained by their human counterparts into chambers capable of simulating the same air pressure changes that occur in most military transport planes.

The results of the study, published in the latest issue of The Journal of Neurotrauma, revealed that brain inflammation among these lab rats was “substantially enhanced” after being subjected to the pressure changes, and that they were “materially worse at the end” in terms of lost brain cells and behavior.

As shocking as this was, they also found that when the lab rats were subjected to two pressurized sessions in two days — mimicking the plane journeys of many service members — the severity of TBIs was intensified and that all of the lab rats, regardless of the number of pressurized sessions, showed additional brain inflammation seven days after the initial injury. 

The researchers indicated that the results of the study suggest that military medical protocol perhaps needs to be re-evaluated, such that TBI patients might need to be stabilized further prior to air transport or that the military needs to find ways to improve pressurization in its aircraft.

It remains to be seen whether this study will be adapted to the nonmilitary world where pressurization rates are considerably different in civilian aircraft, and, if so, whether similar findings would result.

If a loved one has suffered a serious brain injury due to what you believe was medical negligence, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can investigate what happened and fight for the justice you deserve.  

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