Importance: The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reported 358,088 mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) among U.S. service members worldwide between the years 2000 and 2020. Veterans with mTBI have higher rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depressive disorder, substance use disorder, anxiety disorder, and suicide than their healthy counterparts. Currently, there is no effective treatment for mTBI.

Objective: To assess the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) as a treatment option for mTBI.

Design, Setting, Participants: This is a case series of 39 U.S. Veterans diagnosed with mTBI and treated with HBOT. Of these participants, 36 were men and 3 women, and their ages ranged between 28 and 69. The treatment was administered by The 22 Project (a veteran-centered nonprofit organization) using monoplace hyperbaric chambers located in Delray Beach, Florida. Neuroimaging using Single Photon Emission Computer Tomography (SPECT) brain scans performed pre- and post-HBOT were made available for secondary analysis.Nilearn Python Library was utilized to visualize the corresponding neuroimaging data. A two-sided paired t-test in R was used to compare the pre- and post-treatment results.

Intervention: A full treatment of HBOT involved 40 sessions. Each session consisted of the administration of 100% oxygen at 1.5 atmospheres for 90 min, twice a day, for 20 days, Mondays to Fridays only.

Main Outcome and Measure: Perfusion in the brain’s Brodmann Areas (BA) comparing pre- and pos tHBOT using NeuroGam software analysis from brain SPECT scan neuroimaging and multi-symptom self-reports.

Results: A comparison between the pre- and post-HBOT brain scans showed significant improvement in the brain perfusion, and the difference was statistically significant (p < 0.001). Separately, participants reported reduced pain, improved mood, and better sleep, an outcome that translated into an average of about 46.6% improvement in the measured symptoms.

Conclusions and Relevance: This series demonstrated that HBOT could be a useful treatment for mTBI in U.S. veterans. The participants in the study showed marked improvement in both brain perfusion measured on SPECT scan imaging and measured mTBI symptoms. This is the first study to use brain SPECT scans with quantitative numerical measurements to demonstrate improvement in brain perfusion in veterans with mild TBI treated with HBOT and measured mTBI symptoms. Future research studies are currently being done to validate these important findings.

Keywords: mild traumatic brain injury; persistent post-concussion brain syndrome; hyperbaric oxygen therapy; Brodmann Areas

Read full case study: A Case Series of 39 United States Veterans with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Treated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy