Veterans living with comorbid traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder were at increased risk for worse pain and sleep disturbances, reported Nadir M. Balba and colleagues at the VA Portland (Ore.) Health Care System.
The authors conducted a retrospective review of medical records at the VA Portland Health Care System (VAPORHCS) that evaluated 639 veterans who were referred to the VAPORHCS Sleep Disorders Clinic between May 2015 and November 2016. They wrote, “The purpose of this study was to determine whether Veterans with comorbid TBI and PTSD exhibit a higher prevalence of sleep disturbances (determined via self-report and objective polysomnography) and pain compared to Veterans with only TBI or PTSD.”
Patients were recruited to participate in the cross-sectional study, which included participation in an overnight sleep clinic as well as patient self-reported sleep quality, pain, and TBI and PTSD symptom severity. Sleep disturbances included insomnia, nightmares, sleep fragmentation, obstructive sleep apnea, and parasomnias. The survey tools used in the study included the Rivermead Post Concussion Questionnaire (RPCQ), the PTSD Checklist DSM-5 (PSTD-5), the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), and the Functional Outcomes of Sleep Questionnaire-10 (FOSQ-10). Sleep studies were recorded usingand sleep staging was performed by a certified sleep technician and verified by a board-certified sleep medicine physician.
Patients were grouped into one of four trauma exposure classifications based on their prior history of trauma, including neither (n = 383), TBI (n = 67), PTSD (n = 126), and TBI+PTSD (n = 63).
Self-reported sleep disturbance, which was the worst among those with PTSD and those with comorbid TBI and PTSD, indicated that PTSD plays a more significant role in the occurrence of disturbed sleep than TBI, the researchers noted. “Participants in the TBI+PTSD and PTSD groups had significantly worse ISI scores (i.e., higher scores) compared to both the TBI and neither groups (P less than .001). Furthermore, participants in the TBI+PTSD and PTSD groups had significantly worse FOSQ-10 scores (ie, lower scores) compared to both the TBI and neither groups (P less than .001),” they wrote.
In terms of pain, patients with comorbid TBI and PTSD reported the greatest severity of pain, including more frequent headaches and worse photo and phono sensitivities. The TBI and PTSD groups, however, both scored significantly higher in their pain reports than those in the neither group, which suggests “that each of these conditions independently contributes to increased pain,” the authors observed. Ultimately, they cited multiple linear regression models, which attributed sleep disturbances and TBI symptom severity as the primary contributors to pain presentation.
“It is well established that sleep disturbances and pain are inextricably linked,” they said. The results of this study serve to validate that connection “but also suggest this link may be even stronger in those with comorbid TBI and PTSD,” they added.
The researchers cited self-report data as a possible study limitation. They also conceded that comorbid depression and substance use disorder could both play a role in further exacerbating sleep disturbance and pain.
Future research should evaluate how TBI and PTSD, along with other unidentified comorbid conditions, may work together in exacerbating symptoms so that more effective treatment interventions can be developed to address sleep and pain disturbance following multiple traumas.
The authors had no relevant financial disclosures to report.
SOURCE: Balba N et al.