MRI shows brain damage in a surprisingly high percentage of active duty military personnel who suffered blast-related mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), according to a new study appearing online in the journal Radiology. In what represents the largest study using advanced brain imaging of active military ever performed, Dr. Riedy and colleagues used MRI to study 834 military service members with MTBI related to blast injuries. Slightly more than 84 percent of the patients reported one or more blast-related incidents, and 63 percent reported loss of consciousness at the time of injury. The MRI scans revealed the presence of white matter T2 hyperintensities, which can be thought of as brain scars, in 52 percent of the MTBI patients.
“We were really surprised to see so much damage to the brain in the MTBI patients,” Dr. Riedy said. “It’s expected that people with MTBI should have normal MRI results, yet more than 50 percent had these abnormalities.” Pituitary abnormalities were identified in almost a third of MTBI patients. The pituitary, the so-called “master gland” that governs other endocrine gland functions, is located in the base of the brain. Previous research has shown a decline in pituitary function in soldiers who experienced MTBI, perhaps because of blast-related trauma. “An objective measure of traumatic brain injury can lead to proper therapies,” Dr. Riedy said. The ability to see the brain scans has already had an impact on military personnel and their families, Dr. Riedy noted, allowing them to see for the first time what has previously been called the invisible wounds of war.