New Oxygen Therapy Offers Traumatic Brain Injury Patients Hope

The U.S. National Institutes of Health recently reported the completion of testing of a new treatment for traumatic brain injury known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO2).  Although the study results are not yet available, doctors are hopeful this therapy will help speed the recovery of patients struggling with these brain injuries. 

According to an NBC article on the novel therapy, patients spend an hour in a tank, allowing them to be “submerged in 100 percent oxygen under increased pressure, similar to going 17 feet under water.”  Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired Army brigadier general, recommends this treatment which he believes may have a healing effect on the neurons and small blood vessels. 

According to Xenakis, patients undergo 40 sessions of this treatment, though he said most start to feel better about halfway through.  He claims patients start to see their mood improve, headaches fade, and alertness and focus return.  

Despite positive feedback, a 2010 evaluation of HBO2 treatment from the Veterans Administration revealed that the clinical value of this treatment is not yet known.  Although several case results report positive outcomes in patients with a traumatic brain injury, they cannot be considered accurate measures of the treatment, as they were not “randomized, controlled, or blinded studies.” 

Therefore, researchers have no way of determining whether these positive reports are a result of the therapy, the patient’s natural recovery process, or even a placebo effect.  Furthermore, the long-term effects of this treatment also require additional research before this treatment is considered a safe procedure.  That VA report also looked at the potential for treating those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with this therapy.  

Nevertheless, doctors testing this therapy point out that every patient who has undergone treatment reported feeling better.  Despite inconclusive findings as to its medical value, HBO2 represents a promising option for those struggling with a traumatic brain injury, particularly military veterans.            

Another study into HBO2 for the treatment of persistent post-concussive symptoms following a mild traumatic brain injury is currently recruiting active duty military men and non-pregnant women.  That study’s clinical trial information page can be found here