WASHINGTON Traumatic brain injury may lead to an increased risk of developing symptoms like those of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other disorders, a panel of experts said on Thursday.
A committee of the Institute of Medicine, which provides advice to U.S. policymakers, reviewed studies on the consequences of the kind of brain injuries that thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered.
The panel's report said more than 5,500 troops have sustained traumatic brain injuries in the two wars, many due to the roadside bombs commonly used by insurgents against American military vehicles.
Led by George Rutherford of the University of California, San Francisco, the panel said there is evidence that such injuries at moderate and severe levels may leave a person at higher risk for dementia like that experienced by people with mind-robbing Alzheimer's disease.
It also said research indicates these injuries at moderate and severe levels can make someone more likely to get symptoms similar to those of Parkinson's disease, which affects nerve cells in the brain that control muscle movement. Parkinson's symptoms include trembling and slowness of movement.
Traumatic brain injury also may be linked to increased risk of seizures, aggressive behavior, depression, and memory and concentration problems, according to the report prepared for the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department.
This kind of injury typically results from a sudden, violent blow to the head that can bruise the brain, rip nerve fibers and cause bleeding.
"Explosive devices and other weaponry have become more powerful and devastating throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are seeing much higher rates of non-penetrating traumatic brain injury and blast-induced injury among military personnel who have served in these countries than in earlier wars," Rutherford said in a statement.
"It is important to identify and understand any long-term health effects of these injuries so that wounded service members do not lose valuable time for therapy and rehabilitation," he said.
The panel recommended that the U.S. Defense Department give troops cognitive tests before they are deployed to establish a baseline for identifying post-injury consequences.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Xavier Briand)