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UPMC/Pitt Researchers Find PTSD-Concussion Link in Military

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 16, 2012UPMC and University of Pittsburgh researchers this week announced an important finding: residual symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and concussions may be linked in military personnel who endure blast and/or blunt traumas.

Anthony Kontos, Ph.D., assistant research director for the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, announced the concussion/PTSD study conclusions this week at the Military Health System Research Symposium held in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With 27,169 participants from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), it is believed to be the largest study of its kind of concussion and PTSD.

The study found that USASOC personnel reported clinical levels of PTSD symptoms in 12 percent of concussions from blunt trauma, 23 percent from blast trauma and 31 percent from combination blast-blunt trauma. By contrast, only 6 percent of those who experienced clinical PTSD had never been diagnosed with a concussion. PTSD reactions were more likely as concussions increased: in 22 percent of personnel after one blast concussion, 29 percent after two and 34 percent after three.

“The findings regarding the clinical PTSD-symptom levels highlight the importance for military medical personnel to screen for and treat PTSD as well as concussion in personnel exposed to concussions, particularly those exposed to multiple-blast traumas,” said Kontos, the corresponding author on the paper. “The dose-response relationship between the number of blast concussions and residual concussion and PTSD symptoms supports the notion that exposure to blast head trauma has lingering effects.”

The researchers are currently conducting a prospective study looking at pre- and post-concussion neurocognitive deficits and PTSD symptoms. They also plan to relate these outcomes to helmet accelerometer data.

The military research team included Kontos, R.J. Elbin, Ph.D., post-doctoral research associate with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Kevin Guskiewicz, Ph.D., director of the University of North Carolina Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, and medical officers from 2009-11 at U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.: Col. Russ S. Kotwal, M.D., Col. Robert H. Lutz, M.D., Col. Robert D. Forsten, D.O., Col. Peter J. Benson, M.D. Their study was funded by the U.S. Special Operations Command Biomedical Initiatives Steering Committee.

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