#162- Shell Shock Impact


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Based on research by Ryu, J., Horkayne-Szakaly, I., Xu, L., Pletnikova, O., Leri, F., Eberhart, C., & Koliatsos, V.E. (2014), written by Mara Rowcliffe, BS.

Did you know during the First World War, shell shock was used to describe the mysterious reaction of some soldiers to trauma in combat? Symptoms included “exhibiting helplessness and an inability to reason, sleep, walk or talk.”

New research may have identified the specific brain injury that explains why some soldiers’ lives are devastated by the condition. Psychologist Francesco Leri and researchers from Johns Hopkins University conducted autopsies on US combat veterans. These veterans survived improvised explosive device (IED) blasts in Iraq or Afghanistan but later died of other causes. The autopsies were compared to other individuals who experienced head trauma such as from a car accident, or drug overdose. The comparison revealed the IED surviving soldiers had “a distinctive honeycomb pattern of broken and swollen nerve fibers” in their brain’s frontal lobe and other areas. This area is in charge of decision making, control, and reasoning.

We now know these sometimes hidden brain injuries may contribute to social and psychological problems encountered by some combat veterans such as depression, anxiety, and what we label today as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. If veterans you know have some of these difficulties, understand they also may be neurologically based. Give them encouragement, acceptance, and appreciation.



Ryu, J., Horkayne-Szakaly, I., Xu, L., Pletnikova, O., Leri, F., Eberhart, C., … & Koliatsos, V. E. (2014). The problem of axonal injury in the brains of veterans with histories of blast exposure. Acta neuropathologica communications, 2(1), 153-153.



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