19 March 2015

Why our “Take a Motrin” approach could be hurting our troops: Part I of II

This is Part I of a series on critical medical advancements that save troops’ lives, and how each of us can help our RallyPoint brothers and sisters facing medical challenges.

All of us have experienced – or at least heard about – this type of situation unfolding overseas: a troop suffers a potential head injury, is hastily evaluated (despite best intentions), and is put back into the fight too early.  “Take a Motrin,” the adage goes, where unit-level medics give troops a few Motrin, ask them to recite the alphabet backwards, and tell them to shake it off.  Added to this is that military personnel have a tough mentality; they too often avoid admitting they’re hurt or in pain until it becomes unbearable.  But by then, it could be too late, and tragedy becomes almost inevitable.

The unit-level “screening” tests conducted in the military actually do not tell us much about the true brain injury that may have occurred.  For example, we don’t know whether taking a Motrin helps or actually HURTS a troop with a serious head injury.  In a literal sense, this means a troop could have a TBI, and the military’s protocols could actually be hurting him/her.  It’s true, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

What we need is a test that tells us whether this troop is truly injured, how bad the injury is, and how we may be able to best treat him.  Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) is such a test.  It’s a unique version of an MRI that measures the chemicals in the brain – a completely harmless procedure that can tell if chemicals in the brain have changed.  A renowned Harvard brain scientist, Dr. Alex Lin, is spearheading an ambitious study to bring this test to the DoD – a change that would save the lives of countless members from among our military community.

Currently, we can look at MRS studies in mice to see how their brain chemicals change after head trauma from a blast.  We can also look at MRS studies from NFL players and professional soccer players, and make predictions about what chemicals might change in military troops due to a blast.  However, scientists don’t know exactly how the brain responds to an IED blast versus a high-impact football tackle.  This requires us to further investigate how an IED blast specifically affects troops’ brains.  

Through Dr. Lin’s MRS study, it will be possible to not only determine what chemicals in the brain change due to an IED blast, but also start the process of developing new treatments that could improve – and ultimately save – troops’ lives on the battlefield and years later at home, after they have taken off the uniform.

Perhaps most groundbreaking for readiness across the DoD today, these MRS studies will also allow doctors to easily identify troops at risk for PERMANENT damage if they are hit by another blast – thus preventing troops from returning to the fight before they are ready.  

-- How you can do your part to save troops’ lives –

While these studies are sometimes enigmatic, they are critical in that they enable us to learn what we don’t know.  The success of Dr. Lin’s study ultimately requires active troops and veterans to volunteer a few hours of their time to be scanned.  Being that I am a veteran who is no longer serving, the decision to take three hours to get my brain scanned was easy – the whole time I was thinking, “I am doing my part to save the lives of my brothers and sisters in arms.”  The medical community is working to equip line medics with better diagnostic tests and tools to protect troops suffering from a TBI, and as individuals we can all play a role in pushing this process forward.

Dr. Lin in Boston, MA is conducting this study.  If you are in the New England area, or are willing to travel to do your part just like I did, please say so by posting a response in this thread, or by clicking this link: http://bit.ly/bwh_study

In my Part II follow-up in this series, I will share my own experience going through this study with Dr. Lin.  Coming soon!

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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