Head Injury and Hormonal Dysfunction

Traumatic brain injury, also known as TBI, can damage the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.  Located at the base of the brain, they regulate our hormones and can release too little or too much of a hormone when damaged, so disrupting the body's internal stability.

What is hypopituitarism?

When pituitary gland damage causes reduced hormone production, the condition is called hypopituitarism and was first reported almost 100 years ago.  Originally thought to be a rare occurrence, recent research on adult survivors of severe brain injury, now reports the incidence of pituitary hormone deficiencies to be between 23% and 69%.

Symptoms and assessment

Most people’s hormone levels are initially affected following a traumatic brain injury, even if the pituitary is undamaged.  This makes pituitary damage hard to identify though it can be tested later in the recovery process if it becomes clear that some symptoms are caused by hormonal changes.

The effects of pituitary and hypothalamus injury vary and some symptoms are also similar to the more common effects of brain injury, which is another reason why the problem is not easily diagnosed.

Overlapping symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Impotence and altered sex drive
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Visual disturbance

Other symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Reduced body hair
  • Irregular periods/loss of normal menstrual function
  • Reduced fertility
  • Weight gain
  • Increased cold sensitivity
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Pale appearance
  • Low blood pressure/dizziness
  • Diabetes insipidus

A thorough assessment is needed before a firm diagnosis can be made so if you suspect symptoms of hypopituitarism, or any other hormonal condition, you should speak to your GP.  They may refer you to an endocrinologist who can run a variety of hormone level tests and even a scan, to look for damage to the hypothalamus or pituitary gland.

Treatment

Early hormonal problems may cause neurogenic diabetes insipidus, with symptoms of increased thirst and excessive dilute urine, due to a reduction in the hormone vasopressin (anti-diuretic hormone) and is treated by administering desmopressin and replacing lost fluids.

If later on hypopituitarism is confirmed, hormone replacement therapy may be used to restore normal hormone levels, to help manage symptoms.  However the assessment and treatment of hypopituitarism after brain injury is a complex process and if symptoms are being caused by damage elsewhere in the brain, treatment for pituitary dysfunction will not work.

Head Injury UK: Traumatic Brain Injury Claim Experts

The full extent of hypopituitarism after traumatic brain injury is unknown, and whilst it seems to occur mainly after severe brain injury it may also occur after apparently minor head injuries.  At Head Injury UK our specialist brain injury lawyers are aware of hypopituitarism and can help identify if your doctor may need to be investigate it.  If you are a loved one is affected by any of these issues, following a brain injury caused by someone else’s fault, please contact Andy Shaw to see how we can help.

 

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