mri-scanA recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry shows a clear link between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in U.S. Marines.

The study concluded that the strongest predictor of PTSD in a service member after deployment is TBI suffered during the most recent deployment. The article is titled “Treatment of Generalized War-Related Health Concerns: Placing TBI and PTSD in Context.” It was published in October 2014.

As part of the study, medical professionals interviewed more than 1,600 Marines on active duty and sailors from infantry battalions in Southern California. The interviews were conducted both before and after seven-month tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan between July 2008 and May 2012. Evaluation of subjects occurred about a month before deployment, a week after returning and at three and six months after downrange service.

The study determined that a TBI sustained during deployment increased the likelihood of PTSD after deployment by almost double in subjects who had minimal or no symptoms before deployment. Wartime violence often leads to head injuries, and the study concluded that structural and functional changes to the brain from TBI likely contribute to PTSD.

PTSD Common Among Military Service Members

PTSD is a condition that service members returning from active duty have been frequently diagnosed with in recent years. Also known as “shell shock” or “combat stress,” PTSD may develop after severe trauma or a life-threatening incident.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD:

  • Approximately 15 percent of Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD in the late 1980s, and an estimated 30 percent of all Vietnam vets have experienced PTSD in their lifetimes.
  • Approximately 12 percent of all Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans in any given year suffer from PTSD.
  • Approximately 11 to 20 percent of all Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) veterans in any given year have PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD may include nightmares, flashbacks, loss of interest, feeling numb, sleeplessness, anger, depression, anxiety and irritability. PTSD sufferers may become isolated or engage in drug or alcohol abuse.

Causes and Symptoms of TBI

Traumatic brain injuries may be mild, moderate or severe. They are caused by blows to the head or wounds that penetrate the skull and damage the brain. Some signs and symptoms of TBI may not appear for days or weeks after an injury, and when they do appear, they may not be obvious to the victim.

A serious TBI may disturb the brain’s critical role in the body, affecting cognitive functions and social and emotional functions, as well as physical abilities.

Some TBI symptoms that affect emotional stability and social interaction may be similar to symptoms of PTSD. These include:

  • Mood changes, sadness and irritability.
  • Decreased motivation.
  • Nervousness or anxiety.
  • Withdrawing and avoiding social situations.
  • Increased impulsiveness.
  • Becoming easily overwhelmed.

What to Do After Traumatic Brain Injury

If you have suffered a blow to the head or an open head wound, you should get medical attention immediately. TBI can present many long-term challenges for both victims and their families.

If you or a loved one has suffered a TBI caused by someone else’s negligence, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney to determine whether you may have a claim for compensation.


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – National Center for PTSD
JAMA Psychiatry – Treatment of Generalized War-Related Health Concerns: Placing TBI and PTSD in Context