Smell Test Helps Spot Brain Trauma in Combat Zones, Study Says

Findings suggest new avenue for identifying hidden injuries

THURSDAY, March 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Testing soldiers’ sense of smell can help diagnose those with traumatic brain injury, a new study shows.

The findings suggest that doctors in combat zones could use smell tests to help identify soldiers who require immediate brain scans, thereby improving frontline care of those with blast injuries, the researchers said.

“Although it may seem far-fetched that the sense of smell can be used to identify a concealed brain injury, [impaired sense of smell] was commonly used by neurosurgeons in attempts to localize certain brain tumors prior to the use of advanced neuroimaging in the 1980s,” said study leader Dr. Michael Xydakis, an Air Force colonel and associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, in Bethesda, Md.

The study included 231 members of the U.S. military with combat injuries who were patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. They were evaluated for traumatic brain injury and had their sense of smell tested.

All of those with irregular results on the smell test had abnormalities on brain scans, according to the findings published online recently in the journal Neurology.

The brain interprets smells by linking them to past memories. This process doesn’t work properly if a person is experiencing memory problems, the researchers explained.

“Getting a CT scan in a combat zone is often the equivalent distance of placing a soldier on a helicopter in Washington, D.C., and sending them to Boston. It requires a significant investment in personnel and aviation resources; not to mention flying troops over hostile terrain,” Xydakis said in a journal news release.

“Using abnormalities with the sensory systems has opened up an entirely new avenue of investigation for diagnosing brain injuries,” he added.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about traumatic brain injury.

— Robert Preidt
SOURCE: Neurology, news release, March 20, 2015

Be sure to check out our website and please connect with us on all of our social media outlets at TheTwinDoctors.

About The Docs


Idris is the creation of twin OB/Gyn Doctors Jamil and Idries Abdur-Rahman. Jamil (Dr. J) and Idries (Dr. I) were inspired to start after participating on season 22 of CBS’ ‘The Amazing Race’.

Read More

Everything You Ever Wanted to
Know About Pregnancy:

But Were Too
Embarrassed or Afraid to Ask

by Idries Abdur-Rahman (Goodreads Author),
Jamil Abdur-Rahman MD, Nikia Bilal (Editor)

Buy Now

Follow us on Twitter

Follow Us On Facebook