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Unconventionally Acquired Brain Injury: Guidance and Instruction About an Emerging Challenge to Warfighter Brain Health

Summer 2021

Biggs AT, Henry SM, Johnston SL, Whittaker DR, Littlejohn LF. 21(2). 43 - 48. (Journal Article)


Special Operations Forces have made brain health a medical priority in recent years, and new guidance identified a new challenge-unconventionally acquired brain injury (UBI). Although this emerging condition is described as a cluster of neurosensory and cognitive symptoms with unknown etiology/ origin, there remain critical questions about how this diagnosis differs from other brain injuries. More importantly, there are limited recommendations about how medical personnel should approach the problem. The current discussion will provide context and information about UBI based on higher guidance and will also review the scant literature to provide context. Foremost, UBI can be distinguished from traumatic brain injury (TBI) largely due to an unknown point of injury. The described symptoms otherwise appear to be largely the same as TBI. Likewise, the recommended course of treatment is to follow the Clinical Practice Guidelines for mild TBI/TBI even if the injury is an actual or suspected UBI. Personnel must be careful to avoid entering sensitive information into the medical record, which may be particularly challenging if identifying the cause involves classified information about an unconventional weapon. Finally, we briefly discuss the literature about several suspected incidents fitting UBI diagnostic criteria, and we conclude with five primary takeaways for medical personnel to follow.

Keywords: unconventional, acquired brain injury; traumatic brain injury; Havana syndrome; Special Operations; Frey effect

PMID: 34105120

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