June 25, 2008 – An Elk Grove Village hospital plans to use brain-imaging technology to determine whether combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder also might suffer from undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries.
A “magnetic stethoscope” primarily used to study epilepsy and autism will help determine how brain function is altered by PTSD, officials at Alexian Brothers Medical Center said Wednesday.
The MEG technology—short for magnetoencephalography—allows doctors to read magnetic signals produced by the brain when exposed to visual or auditory stimuli, said Jeffrey Lewine, director of the Alexian Center for Brain Research.Those signals appear to differ in a veteran who only has PTSD compared with one who has PTSD and traumatic brain injury, Lewine said.
The combination can be hard to diagnose but critically affect proper treatment, according to Lewine. “You have to know what you’re treating to get the right treatment,” Lewine said. “Behavioral testing doesn’t always distinguish the different components. We need to look at the biology.”
He hopes to develop diagnostic techniques that will lead to faster treatment.
Almost 20 percent of soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan—nearly 300,000—have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, according to a recent study by the RAND Corp., a non-profit that researches issues associated with policy problems.
About 19 percent said they thought they might have suffered a traumatic brain injury while deployed, according to the study.
The Elk Grove hospital’s veterans imaging program will be part of an expanded support system aimed at serving veterans in the northwest suburbs suffering from duty-related neurological and psychiatric problems, officials said.
Participating in the hospital’s effort are the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Northwest Suburban Veterans Advisory Council.
State funding approved last year targets veterans with PTSD, officials said.
“Isn’t it about time we do this in the United States of America?” said state Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), who sponsored the legislation.
“This is the one thing we can agree on.”
Lt. James McCormick, 36, experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering combat injuries in Afghanistan, said his father, Daniel McCormick, a lay member of the Alexian Brothers, a Catholic religious order. His son returned to the United States four months ago.
Daniel McCormick, director of vocations for the Alexian Brothers, said PTSD-related difficulties that soldiers face range from being jumpy or nervous to the inability to hold a job.
“As long as there are people, men and women will have to go to war,” he said. “And when they come home, we have to take care of them.”
Researchers will use MEG with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG), Lewine said. Together, the technologies will allow clinicians to generate sophisticated 3-D images of brain activity.
It’s important to know which medical issues a soldier is dealing with because treatments differ. Those suffering from both afflictions would be oversensitive to medications usually prescribed for someone with only PTSD.