Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy No Help For Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD: Study

The findings of a new study suggest that hyperbaric oxygen following a concussion or other traumatic brain injury may offer no more than a placebo effect. 

Researchers for top military agencies conducted a randomized control trial and found hyperbaric treatment for brain injuries does not provide relief from severe concussion symptoms. The findings were published November 17, in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has increased recently in popularity. Many ads on the internet feature testimonials from veterans, coaches and other concussion patients who swear by the treatments.

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Awareness about the risks associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI) has gained much media exposure in recent years. A study published in January found survivors of traumatic brain injury were three times more likely to face a premature death. The debilitating side effects and increased mortality may be prompting many suffers if TBIs to seek treatments at any cost.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy consists of patients spending long-periods of time in a tank breathing 100% oxygen at higher than atmospheric pressure. It is often used effectively to treat decompression sickness, a hazard of scuba diving, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Clinics and treatment centers tout benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or many ailments, including autism, infant brain trauma, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, cerebral palsy and concussions. No research has proven it to be effective for these conditions.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Placebo Effect for Brain Injuries

Officials from the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) set out to conduct a clinical research study exploring whether hyperbaric oxygen treatment offered military service members relief from symptoms of severe concussion, specifically traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The clinical trial was headed up by R. Scott Miller, M.D., of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Researchers evaluated patients from 72 military hospitals in Colorado, North Carolina, California and Georgia.  They separated patients into three groups. Nearly 96 percent of the patients were male, an average age of 31 years old.

The study showed hyperbaric oxygen therapy had no real benefits over a similar fake hyperbaric procedure.

The groups included those who received routine post-concussive care with the DOD, those who received routine post-concussive care with a supplemented hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment of 60 minutes for 40 sessions, and those who received routine post-concussive care with a hyperbaric treatment of an air-filled chamber, at a level that masked the pressurization process, of 60 minutes for 40 sessions.

They scored the participants on post-concussion symptoms using a questionnaire.

Without the treatments, service members with the most severe symptoms typically recovered fully within 30 days. However, some reported lingering chronic symptoms, including headaches, balance issues, sleep disturbances, forgetfulness and irritability.

Overall, participants in both groups, the sham group and the hyperbaric group, saw improved symptoms of traumatic brain injury compared to the group of patients who received no supplemental hyperbaric treatment, room air filled or oxygen filled.

Some patients reported to researchers improved symptoms, even after breathing room air not 100 percent oxygen. However researchers were able to connect the improvement to the placebo effect.

Simply put, the participants felt better because they wanted to feel better and had hope the treatment they were receiving would be effective.

Patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury and report symptoms have subsided still suffer continuing effects to the brain, including brain abnormalities up to four months after symptoms stopped.

Researchers point to prior studies conducted on hyperbaric oxygen treatment that found similar conclusions. They insist, no additional benefits can be seen for these ailments by using hyperbaric oxygen treatments.

In recent years, significant pressure has been placed on the VA to equip hospitals with the hyperbaric chambers to treat patients, especially those suffering from traumatic brain injuries. Yet, the new findings suggest that may not be the best option for post-concussive treatment.

1 Comments

  • JohnDecember 23, 2015 at 3:32 am

    Please correct the erroneous comments above. This study has been debunked as it used an improper control that actually was a treatment providing increased oxygen flow to the brain resulting in the lack of difference. The protocols used were non-standard and the pressure used was above that proposed for treatment by knowledgeable organizations. In that the Navy is the leader in Hyperbarics (and Div[Show More]Please correct the erroneous comments above. This study has been debunked as it used an improper control that actually was a treatment providing increased oxygen flow to the brain resulting in the lack of difference. The protocols used were non-standard and the pressure used was above that proposed for treatment by knowledgeable organizations. In that the Navy is the leader in Hyperbarics (and Diving Medicine), one has to wonder why the Army conducted this study. Information regarding TBI must be balanced and carefully considered due to the effect on our Veterans. See: Harch PG. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for post-concussion syndrome: contradictory conclusions from a study mischaracterized as sham-controlled. J Neurotrauma. 2013 Oct 11. [Epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1089/neu.2012.2799. and Harch P. Department of Defense trials for hyperbaric oxgen and TBI: Issues of study design and questionable conclusions. Undersea Hyperb Med. 2013; 40(5):469-70. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text Dr Harsch is the leading expert in this area.

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