Can Traumatic Brain Injury Cause Hormonal Dysfunction?
Posted in Brain injury on November 22, 2018
A traumatic brain injury is any type of injury that affects the head and brain. In many cases, a traumatic brain injury can cause long-term or even permanent damage like cognitive impairment, memory problems, sleep problems, personality changes, and more. One of the most common, yet often overlooked, potential effects of a traumatic brain injury is interference with the body’s endocrine system; the flow of hormones from the brain that regulate growth, behavior, and many other bodily functions.
The pituitary gland in the brain produces two very vital hormones: Growth Hormone (GH) and Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH). If a brain injury results in reduced GH production, the victim may experience a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, reduced stamina, diminished sex drive, and fatigue. Reduced ADH production may lead to diabetes insipidus, a condition that results in extreme thirst and excessive urination. About 25% of individuals who suffer severe traumatic brain injuries experience the symptoms of diabetes insipidus, but these symptoms typically dissipate within a year.
Problems Diagnosing Hormonal Problems
Medical professionals who treat patients that suffered traumatic brain injuries may not know where to look for hormonal damage. Most doctors will order imaging tests like x-rays and MRIs to look for physical damage to the brain, but these scans cannot detect changes in the brain’s hormone production levels. Imaging tests may appear to report perfectly normal results, with no hint there is a problem with the patient’s hormones. Unfortunately, an unchecked hormonal imbalance can lead to a host of medical complications and possibly even long-term damage. A blood screening is typically the best way for a medical professional to diagnose a hormonal imbalance.
A traumatic brain injury may also damage the hypothalamus, another brain gland responsible for managing the endocrine system in the body. The pituitary gland and the hypothalamus essentially manage the rest of the endocrine system throughout the body, so any traumatic brain injury that hurts either of these glands can lead to serious hormonal problems. Some researchers speculate that hormonal interference is the root cause of the trademark fatigue many concussion victims report after their injuries.
Possible Long-Term Damage
A hormonal imbalance may only last a short time but the fluctuations in hormone levels a traumatic brain injury can cause can easily lead to permanent damage. Along with the previously mentioned diabetes insipidus, some of the most common hormonal issues following traumatic brain injuries include:
- Adrenal insufficiency. The adrenal glands cannot produce enough hormones, resulting in fatigue, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, and low blood pressure. Adrenal insufficiency is potentially fatal without intensive medical intervention.
- Damages the balance of water and salt in the body, leading to confusion, convulsions, fatigue, and headaches.
- Can lead to constipation, weight gain, menstrual irregularities in women, and poor resistance to cold temperatures due to lower thyroid hormone production.
- In women, this condition can lead to loss of body hair and menstrual cessation. In men, the condition can lead to breast enlargement, loss of body hair, muscle loss, and sexual dysfunction.
- GH deficiency. This condition is especially dangerous for children as a lack of growth hormone can lead to serious developmental issues. In adults, GH deficiency can lead to muscle loss, increased fat retention, bone density loss, and fatigue.
- Can lead to nipple discharge, erectile dysfunction in men, and menstrual irregularities in women.
In some cases, a patient who exhibits symptoms of one of these conditions will require hormone therapy to replace missing hormones. Doctors may also recommend regular imaging tests to look for any irregularities in brain structure such as pituitary tumors and cysts. Treatment for any hormonal issue after a traumatic brain injury may only be necessary for a year or so until hormone production levels return to normal. Other patients may require long-term or permanent hormone replacement therapy.