Excerpt (part 2) of an article by Mark Muckenfuss
David Cifu is a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and national director of the physical medicine and rehabilitation program for the Veterans Health Administration. He has been the lead researcher on three Department of Defense studies examining hyperbaric treatment in patients with traumatic brain injury. He said the studies have shown patients improve with the treatment — but patients who received placebo treatments improved at a similar rate.
“The VA and military are looking at other alternative approaches,” Cifu said, referring to traumatic brain injury. “We’re putting more than $60 million over the next few years to look at alternative therapies. But [hyperbaric treatment] isn’t one of them.”
Cifu said he believes his studies have largely closed the book on hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a treatment for brain injury. Two of those studies have been published; the other is currently undergoing peer review.
Both the second and third studies Cifu conducted exposed brain-injured combat veterans to a hyperbaric regimen. Control groups in both studies received what he referred to as a “sham” treatment. They were placed in a hyperbaric chamber where they experienced increased atmospheric pressure, but the oxygen content of the air they were breathing was no greater than the 21 percent found in normal air. The test subjects were breathing 100 percent oxygen inside the chamber.
Using a series of evaluations, the test subjects showed a 5 percent to 10 percent improvement from the therapy. But so did the control group.
“All three groups improved exactly the same,” Cifu said. “Just being in a treatment setting gets these people feeling well.”
Follow-up tests on the subjects after three months showed similar results, he said.
The apparently powerful placebo effect in the study is an important consideration in providing care for brain-injured people, Cifu said.
It’s important to provide such combat veterans with “a very strong, supportive, enveloping type of environment,” he said. “We need to give these people something to believe in, (so they feel) that they’re special and we care about them. That’s been shown to work.”