-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Oct. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Headaches are a leading
reason for medical evacuation of U.S. troops from Iraq and
Afghanistan and for the falling number of active-duty troops in
those countries, a new study says.
Neurological illness is one of the top three causes of
non-combat-related loss of unit strength among U.S. troops in Iraq
and Afghanistan, and headaches are the most common neurological
problem, according to the Johns Hopkins-led team of
Post-concussion headaches and migraines are the most common
forms of headache requiring evacuation, and physical trauma was the
cause of nearly half of the debilitating headaches.
Only one-third of troops who are sent home because of headaches
return to duty in either place, the researchers found.
They reviewed the medical records of all 985 military personnel
who were medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004
and 2009 with a primary diagnosis of headache (about one in 1,000
of the soldiers deployed in the regions).
The study did not include those who were medically evacuated
primarily for other reasons (such as trauma) that caused
About 67 percent of troops who were evacuated because of
headaches never returned to the war zone. Those most likely to
return were officers, whose jobs are less physically strenuous, and
women, who are much less likely to have combat roles.
Nearly half of those with tension headaches returned to the war
zone, compared with 20 percent of those whose headaches were
associated with physical trauma, such as post-concussion
The lowest rates of return were among headache sufferers who
also had a diagnosis of a psychiatric illness or traumatic brain
injury and those whose headaches were treated with narcotic pain
Many of the headaches suffered by troops were the result of
damage to, or pressure on, the occipital nerve located at the back
of the head. This can be caused by the heavy Kevlar helmets
soldiers often have to wear for long periods of time.
"Everyone who goes on patrol wears a Kevlar helmet. They are heavy. They are hard to wear. But if you get a headache from your helmet, you still must wear it. If you can't tolerate your helmet, you can't do your job. It would be too dangerous. So these folks end up being evacuated and not returning to duty," study leader Dr. Steven P. Cohen, an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, said in a Hopkins news release.
The study was published online Oct. 12 in the journal
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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