Concussion treatment for service members

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Professional athletes and service members have more in common than meets the eye – namely, they are both ar risk for injuries that lead to concussions.

How the NFL is handling the issue of mild traumatic brain injury has surfaced and resurfaced across national media. And for the military injured at home and on the battlefield, Navy Medicine is one of several groups taking steps toward developing protocols to treat patients with concussions.

“Concussion awareness is critical,” said Capt. Jack Tsao, program director for the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery’s TBI program. “It has been helpful to develop more programs and care options when people, from Congress to officials in organizations such as the NFL, see the impact of these injuries. We conduct training for our health care providers globally on a regular basis, so they are aware of what current protocols are, and they can accurately treat patients.”

Rear Adm. Elaine Wagner, deputy chief for Wounded, Ill and Injured, stressed the need for being prepared to treat TBIs and concussions, despite the official end of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

“This is a topic that is not going away just because of the ending of our last war,” Wagner said. “Of our recorded cases, 85 percent of concussion and TBI that happen to our active duty personnel are while [they are not deployed]. It is really important that our providers have an understanding of current theories and treatments to help patients with this type of injury.”

A mild TBI/concussion occurs when two conditions are met: an injury event and either an alteration of consciousness, a loss of consciousness or post-traumatic amnesia.

When a service member is believed to have the injury, they are administered the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation. Members are also required a 24-hour downtime and must be re-evaluated and medically cleared before returning to duty.

Service members who have more than one potential concussion in any 12-month period will be required to rest for additional time after their symptoms resolve. They must be re-evaluated and medically cleared before returning to duty.

First-line providers will monitor concussion patients for more than a dozen symptoms ranging from headache, dizziness and irritability to memory problems, sleep issues and seizures. The patients can also be treated with medication to reduce headache and help other symptoms. If the symptoms persist, the patient can be referred to a facility for CT scans and more advanced treatment as required.