(NaturalNews) Veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to intense explosions caused largely by IEDs -- improvised explosive devices planted along roadways to target military vehicles -- may have suffered brain injuries without demonstrating any symptoms.
That is the finding of new research, which has revealed that vets exposed to these kinds of blasts are still at risk of damage in their brain's white matter, even though symptoms may not present.
The findings, which have been published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, suggest that the absence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) diagnosis does not take away a vet's risk of brain damage from exposure to blasts.
Senior study author Dr. Rajendra Morey says that very little is actually known about how explosions -- from IEDs, grenades and other weapons -- impact the brain. He says, however, that they are extremely-high-pressure events.
'We didn't expect this'
"From what the military guys tell me, it's a huge pressure wave, and it happens very suddenly," Morey, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, told FoxNews.com. "It kind of stuns you and could confuse you depending on how strong it is. It can knock you off your feet; throw you against a wall or vehicle. The guys describe being 'bell rung,' where you were stunned to the point where you don't know what happened."
Early on, the Pentagon realized that U.S. military vehicles were not made to withstand blasts -- something our enemies began to exploit early on in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the years, however, design improvements were implemented that dramatically increased blast survivability. But while fewer troops were dying from IED explosions, military healthcare providers were seeing an increase in a new type of injury -- TBI.
They saw that, after blasts, some military personnel would experience TBI-related symptoms like losing consciousness, blurred vision and headaches. Some, however, were coming away from blast incidents without any clear signs of injury. Yet more and more studies, on military subjects but also on professional athletes, have revealed that subconcussive events -- impacts to the head that don't result in TBI -- could have long-term negative effects on the brain.
As reported by FoxNews.com:
In order to analyze the effects of blasts further, Morey and his team evaluated 45 U.S. veterans who had served in the military since September 2001. The vets were divided into three groups: those with a history of blast exposure and symptoms of TBI, those with blast exposure and no TBI symptoms, and those with no history of blast exposure.
Using special magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), the researchers were able to analyze the veterans' white matter -- tissue fibers that connect different areas of the brain and facilitate communication. Since many cognitive processes require multiple parts of the brain working together, injured white matter can sometimes lead to poor cognitive function.
Finding the 'Holy Grail' of cause and effect
DTIs showed the quality of the white matter by measuring the flow of fluids throughout the brains of the veterans. When the white matter is healthy and intact, the brain's fluids flow in a directional manner; when it is damaged, however, the fluids diffuse sporadically.
Morey said DTI scans showed unexpected white matter damage.
"We found that the ones who had TBI of course had damage, but what was surprising was veterans who didn't have symptoms and didn't have a diagnosis of TBI also had damage just from being exposed," Morey said. "And the damage was comparable to the TBI veterans. That was the interesting part of this study, because a lot of veterans will assume, 'Okay, I didn't have symptoms; I didn't feel dazed and confused, so I'm okay.' But what we think is maybe there's still damage [in the brain]."
Being able to detect long-term damaged from TBI is the "Holy Grail" of research, said Dr. Geoffrey T. Desmoulin, Ph.D., a researcher and founder of GTD Engineering, a firm that studies the effects of such injuries.
"What is clear is that current detecting techniques are not sensitive enough, the brains injury susceptibility within the blast regime is more sensitive than previously thought and new techniques to determine injury severity such as biomarkers are showing promise," he told Natural News.