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How Does a Brain Injury Cause Pituitary Gland Damage?
Posted in Brain Injury on February 1, 2019
Traumatic Brain Injuries are some of the most severe wounds a human being can suffer. While some milder traumatic brain injuries like concussions often entail minimal chance of long-term damage, the effects of a head injury are unpredictable and similar injuries can entail very different results for different victims.
Any head injury has the potential to cause long-term damage, and one of the most vulnerable and crucial sections of the brain vulnerable to such damage is the pituitary gland, the brain gland responsible for the production of growth hormones. Interference with the pituitary gland’s operation can lead a host of serious medical issues.
What Does the Pituitary Gland Do?
The pituitary gland is a walnut-sized gland at the top of the brain stem in the lowest section of the brain. This gland produces important hormones that help regulate several bodily functions. If the pituitary gland suffers damage in the region responsible for producing human growth hormone (GH), the victim could experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, lethargy, decreased sex drive, and excessive fatigue. About 18% of people who suffer brain injuries experience GH interruption. About 90% of the patients who do experience GH issues see them resolve naturally within about a year.
If the pituitary gland sustains damage in the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) producing region, reduced production of the ADH hormone can lead to diabetes insipidus, a form of diabetes that can entail extreme thirst and excessive urination. This can in turn lead to dehydration, and this condition occurs in about 25% of all brain injury cases. Like GH issues, ADH issues often resolve within a year on their own.
How Does the Pituitary Gland Suffer Damage?
The pituitary gland’s central position in the brain means that it rests just above the basal support of the entire brain; when an injury like whiplash occurs, the brain snaps back and forth from the point just below the pituitary gland, leaving it very susceptible to damage. The pituitary gland regulates several essential hormones in the human body, and any damage to different parts of the gland can have severe effects. These effects can also be unpredictable, sometimes manifesting immediately while other times only appearing several months or years after a brain injury.
Any type of head injury can potentially cause pituitary gland damage, but accidents that involve rapid snapping of the neck or severe blunt force trauma pose a higher risk of injury to the gland. There are several possible medical conditions that may result from such an injury.
- Hypopituitarism describes abnormal or impaired pituitary gland function. If an individual suffers an injury to the GH or ADH regions of the pituitary gland, he or she will likely experience symptoms of hypopituitarism and require hormone treatment.
- Adrenal deficiency. Poor production of hormones in the adrenal glands can lead to a loss of energy, persistent fatigue, and dehydration.
- Diabetes insipidus can result from ADH disruptions and lead to persistent dehydration.
- Hypogonadism may affect women and men in different ways. Women generally experience a loss of body hair and a stop in their menstrual cycles while men often report sexual dysfunction, breast growth, muscle loss, and body hair loss.
These are just a few of the possible hormonal disorders that may result from a traumatic brain injury. The pituitary gland is an essential part of the human brain, responsible for directing the rest of the body’s endocrine glands and ensuring proper hormonal function.
While some of the possible hormonal disorders from a brain injury may resolve on their own with time, the symptoms of these issues can cause severe problems for those that experience them. Hair loss and sexual dysfunction for months can negatively impact overall quality of life, and mood irregularities can also become challenges that strain personal relationships. Anyone who experiences hormonal issues following a brain injury should consult with an endocrinologist to determine an appropriate course of treatment.