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Military Personnel Exposed to Repeated Blasts Have Increased Risks of Health Problems

27 March 2023

From John Marciano

SAN DIEGO - Military personnel exposed to repeated blasts, including those experienced during combat deployments and heavy weapons training, may have elevated risks of migraines, PTSD, depression, hearing loss, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other conditions, according to a new study by researchers from the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC). These findings were recently published in Frontiers in Neurology

The researchers analyzed survey data collected between 2011 and 2013 from 138,949 service members enrolled in the Millennium Cohort Study. Exposures of interest included incoming blasts from enemy munitions such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and outgoing blasts occurring when service members firing their own weapons in training or combat. Based on survey responses, the researchers grouped service members into categories of incoming blast exposure, including no exposure, a single blast, or repeated blasts. They also categorized service members into groups of high or low risk for outgoing blast based on their military occupation. The researchers then compared the risks of 45 different survey-reported new diagnoses of illness or injury.

Service members exposed to incoming blasts had elevated risks for more than 20 different newly diagnosed conditions. Those exposed to repeated incoming blasts had higher risks for PTSD and depression than those exposed to only one incoming blast or no blast. Repeated exposure to both incoming and outgoing blasts also increased the risks of migraines and PTSD; in fact, the increase in risk for PTSD for repeated blast exposure was 8 times the risk for those with no blast exposure.
“These findings, among others conducted in response to Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, help us understand the scope of health outcomes that may be associated with blast exposure sustained during military service. By recognizing the combined influence of both incoming and outgoing blast on service member health, we are better able to identify groups that may have higher risk for adverse health outcomes, even after they leave military service,” says Dr. Jennifer Belding, NHRC Research Psychologist and lead author for the study.
The Millennium Cohort Study was launched in 2001 to understand the impacts of military service and deployments on the long-term physical health, mental health, and quality of life of service members and Veterans. Over the last 20 years, the study has enrolled over 260,000 service members from all six branches of the military and their components and has become the largest and longest-running health study in military history.

The Millennium Cohort Study is headquartered at the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) in San Diego, California and is sponsored by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs. Study findings from the past two decades have helped to inform the development of programs and policies focused on improving the health and well-being of military personnel and veterans. Study findings can be accessed at:
NHRC’s mission is to optimize the operational readiness and health of our armed forces and families by conducting research, development, testing, and evaluation informing DoD policy. NHRC supports military mission readiness with research and development that delivers high-value, high-impact solutions to the health and readiness challenges our military population faces on the battlefield, at sea, on foreign shores and at home. NHRC’s team of distinguished scientists and researchers consists of active-duty service members, federal civil service employees and contractors, whose expertise includes physiology, microbiology, psychology, epidemiology, and biomedical engineering.



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