Posts Tagged hypothalamus

[WEB SITE] Largest-ever study to examine anatomical alterations in the brains of epilepsy patients

Largest-ever study to examine anatomical alterations in the brains of epilepsy patients 

An international research consortium used neuroimaging techniques to analyze the brains of more than 3,800 volunteers in different countries. The largest study of its kind ever conducted set out to investigate anatomical similarities and differences in the brains of individuals with different types of epilepsy and to seek markers that could help with prognosis and treatment.

Epilepsy’s seizure frequency and severity, as well as the patient’s response to drug therapy, vary with the part of the brain affected and other poorly understood factors. Data from the scientific literature suggests that roughly one-third of patients do not respond well to anti-epileptic drugs. Research has shown that these individuals are more likely to develop cognitive and behavioral impairments over the years.

The new study was conducted by a specific working group within an international consortium called ENIGMA, short for Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis, established to investigate several neurological and psychiatric diseases. Twenty-four cross-sectional samples from 14 countries were included in the epilepsy study.

Altogether, the study included data for 2,149 people with epilepsy and 1,727 healthy control subjects (with no neurological or psychiatric disorders). The Brazilian Research Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (BRAINN), which participated in the multicenter study, was the center with the largest sample, comprising 291 patients and 398 controls. Hosted in Brazil, at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), BRAINN is a Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (RIDC http://cepid.fapesp.br/en/home/) supported by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP.

“Each center was responsible for collecting and analyzing data on its own patients. All the material was then sent to the University of Southern California’s Imaging Genetics Center in the US, which consolidated the results and performed a meta-analysis,” said Fernando Cendes, a professor at UNICAMP and coordinator of BRAINN.

A differential study

All volunteers were subjected to MRI scans. According to Cendes, a specific protocol was used to acquire three-dimensional images. “This permitted image post-processing with the aid of computer software, which segmented the images into thousands of anatomical points for individual assessment and comparison,” he said.

According to the researcher, advances in neuroimaging techniques have enabled the detection of structural alterations in the brains of people with epilepsy that hadn’t been noticed previously.

Cendes also highlighted that this is the first epilepsy study built on a really large number of patients, which allowed researchers to obtain more robust data. “There were many discrepancies in earlier studies, which comprised a few dozen or hundred volunteers.”

The patients included in the study were divided into four subgroups: mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) with left hippocampal sclerosis, MTLE with right hippocampal sclerosis, idiopathic (genetic) generalized epilepsy, and a fourth group comprising various less common subtypes of the disease.

The analysis covered both patients who had had epilepsy for years and patients who had been diagnosed recently. According to Cendes, the analysis – whose results were published in the international journal Brain – aimed at the identification of atrophied brain regions in which the cortical thickness was smaller than in the control group.

First analysis

The researchers first analyzed data from the four patient subgroups as a whole and compared them with the controls to determine whether there were anatomical alterations common to all forms of epilepsy. “We found that all four subgroups displayed atrophy in areas of the sensitive-motor cortex and also in some parts of the frontal lobe,” Cendes said.

“Ordinary MRI scans don’t show anatomical alterations in cases of genetic generalized epilepsy,” Cendes said. “One of the goals of this study was to confirm whether areas of atrophy also occur in these patients. We found that they do.”

This finding, he added, shows that in the case of MTLE, there are alterations in regions other than those in which seizures are produced (the hippocampus, parahippocampus, and amygdala). Brain impairment is, therefore, more extensive than previously thought.

Cendes also noted that a larger proportion of the brain was compromised in patients who had had the disease for longer. “This reinforces the hypothesis that more brain regions atrophy and more cognitive impairment occurs as the disease progresses.”

The next step was a separate analysis of each patient subgroup in search of alterations that characterize each form of the disease. The findings confirmed, for example, that MTLE with left hippocampal sclerosis is associated with alterations in different neuronal circuits from those associated with MTLE with right hippocampal sclerosis.

“Temporal lobe epilepsy occurs in a specific brain region and is therefore termed a focal form of the disease. It’s also the most common treatment-refractory subtype of epilepsy in adults,” Cendes said. “We know it has different and more severe effects when it involves the left hemisphere than the right. They’re different diseases.”

“These two forms of the disease are not mere mirror-images of each other,” he said. “When the left hemisphere is involved, the seizures are more intense and diffuse. It used to be thought that this happened because the left hemisphere is dominant for language, but this doesn’t appear to be the only reason. Somehow, it’s more vulnerable than the right hemisphere.”

In the GGE group, the researchers observed atrophy in the thalamus, a central deep-lying brain region above the hypothalamus, and in the motor cortex. “These are subtle alterations but were observed in patients with epilepsy and not in the controls,” Cendes said.

Genetic generalized epilepsies (GGEs) may involve all brain regions but can usually be controlled by drugs and are less damaging to patients.

Future developments

From the vantage point of the coordinator for the FAPESP-funded center, the findings published in the article will benefit research in the area and will also have future implications for the diagnosis of the disease. In parallel with their anatomical analysis, the group is also evaluating genetic alterations that may explain certain hereditary patterns in brain atrophy. The results of this genetic analysis will be published soon.

“If we know there are more or less specific signatures of the different epileptic subtypes, instead of looking for alterations everywhere in the brain, we can focus on suspect regions, reducing cost, saving time and bolstering the statistical power of the analysis. Next, we’ll be able to correlate these alterations with cognitive and behavioral dysfunction,” Cendes said.

 

via Largest-ever study to examine anatomical alterations in the brains of epilepsy patients

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[BLOG POST] Brain Injury and Sex: What Happens After a TBI?

By Xavier Figueroa, Ph.D.

http://www.msktc.org/tbi/factsheets/Sexuality-After-Traumatic-Brain-Injury

womens-brainsWhat is the largest sex organ in the body?

The brain, of course! (Followed by the spinal cord ganglia but let’s not judge).

Intimacy, desire, physical contact and pleasure, they are very basic needs in a relationship. Marriages, partnerships and friendships rely on this most basic link. But when a brain injury occurs, changes in desire and drive (hypo- and hyper-sexuality) can become apparent. Energy and mood can also be affected, which can induce a change in libido, interest and desire. Damage to certain portions of the brain may affect your ability to move, reducing spontaneity and self-esteem. Elements of coming to terms with the trauma, such as shock and recovery may take time, as well as recovery from physical rehabilitation. If the injury is chronic, other changes may become apparent, including cognitive and behavioral changes that shift how friends and partner interact with each other.

Much of these changes can occur days, weeks or even months after the injury, even in mild to moderate traumatic brain injuries. Knowing how to identify, adapt and overcome the changes associated with an ABI/TBI is an important part of recovery.

The most important information to take away from this post is the following: you are not alone, you are not abnormal and you will get better. Millions of individuals and couples have gone through the recovery of a brain injury and difficulties with reestablishing a functional sexual relationship. Hang in there.

What the Problem Looks Like

When we talk about sex, we are talking about something that is simple in practice, but complex in execution. Prior to the brain injury, a pattern of behavior between yourself and your partner was established. How you interacted and what you expected prior to and leading to sexual intimacy were established and anticipated. I wouldn’t call it a pattern (that’s not very exciting!), but a role in which you knew which part each one would play.

A brain injury directly affects the biggest and most important sex organ in the human body. It’s no wonder that sexual issues appear in 50-60% of people that suffer a moderate to severe TBI. In a recent article in US News and World Report (Health Day, April 29, 2013; Link) that reported on the study that appeared in NeuroRehabilitation: An International Journal:

‘The study found that 50 percent to 60 percent of people with TBI have sexual difficulties, such as reduced interest in sex, erectile dysfunction, pain during sex, difficulties in vaginal lubrication, difficulties achieving orgasm or staying aroused, and a sense of diminished sex appeal, Moreno said.

The research found that partners of those with TBI experienced personality and emotional changes, and a modification of family roles that can lead to a crisis, Moreno said. “For the spouse, the survivor becomes a different person, a person they do not recognize as the one they fell in love with in the past,” he said. “The spouse becomes a caregiver and this imbalance in the relationship directly affects sexual desire.”’

Even in cases of mild TBI, there are incidences of 25-50% of people experiencing sexual difficulties [1], especially in individuals exposed to bomb-blast injuries. Brain injuries are not mild…they can take a life of their own and totally transform who you are and how you relate to your significant other (spouse, partner or lover). Many of these changes can be divided into 5 major groups:

  • Decreased Desire (Hyposexuality): inability to become interested in sex.
  • Increased Desire (Hypersexuality): inappropriate sexual behavior; constant focus on sex.
  • Decreased Arousal: Difficulty in achieving erection/lubrication.
  • Difficulty or Inability to Reach Orgasm/Climax:
  • Reproductive Changes: Low sperm count; missed periods.

But these are just the changes that occur with sexual interaction (as if that weren’t enough). These are behavioral changes that hide deeper and more profound changes that can occur throughout the body. Changes in sexual desire are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine…it warns you that something is amiss.

That Voodoo That You do…

Damage to the brain can induce a number of changes:

Fatigue/Tiredness

Hormonal Changes

Emotional Changes

Cognitive Changes

Spasticity/Movement Problems

These changes can come from very specific damage to certain areas of the brain, such as your pituitary, the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. When you get down to it, sex is a very complicated process…neurologically speaking! A number of body systems have to work together to make the engines of desire go vroom…and when one system is not working, then it can cause the engine to misfire and stall.

The Tiny Organ

The pituitary gland is a tiny portion of the brain… but don’t let its size fool you. It is a master regulator of hormones that, when damaged, can diminish your ability to regulate your blood pressure, sleep cycle and hormones.

tiny_organThe function of the pituitary is diverse, as it can affect a number of really important functions:

Hormones secreted from the pituitary gland help control the following body processes:

  • Growth
  • Blood pressure
  • Pregnancy and stimulation of uterine contractions during childbirth
  • Breast milk production
  • Sex organ functions in both males and females
  • Thyroid gland function
  • The conversion of food into energy (metabolism)
  • Water and osmolarity regulation in the body (which affects blood pressure)
  • Water balance via the control of re-absorption of water by the kidneys
  • Temperature regulation
  • Pain relief

If that weren’t enough, this can cascade into disease states that may not seem related to a TBI. One thing that we are seeing with returning veterans is pituitary dysfunction is present and undiagnosed or under diagnosed. Even with hormone or growth factor replacement therapies, a pituitary that is not firing on all cylinders will continue to cause long-term problems. Although changes in sexual interaction are the most visible and can be due to pituitary damage, they warn that the damage is more profound. The Big Organ (the brain) has a lot of functions related to behavior…and when it comes to sex, behavior is key (good or bad).

The Tiny Brain (Hypothalamus)

This portion of the brain, the hypothalamus, is a close neighbor to the pituitary. So close, they are friends with benefits. One of the most important functions of the hypothalamus is to link the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland (another name of the pituitary is the hypophysis).

The hypothalamus is more of a region than an actual structure. It is composed of many groups of neurons (called nuclei) that control a wide variety of hormonal secretions and behaviors. In a recent small scale study of severe TBI, it was discovered that ~21% of study subjects suffered from hypothalamic-hypophysial dysfunction. In about 40% of male TBI sufferers, there was a detectable drop in testosterone levels [2], which can affect sexual drive and desire in men. About 15% of all patients with a TBI have some degree of hypopituitarism that can go unrecognized and could be mistakenly ascribed to persistent neurologic injury and cognitive impairment [3].

The reason for the hypothalamic damage being mistaken for neurologic injury and cognitive impairment are due to the very broad effects that the hypothalamus exerts on metabolism and brain function. If the hypothalamus is misfiring, it takes a very involved physician (or physicians), with training in neurology, endocrinology and/or experience with TBI to identify the problem. A lot of systems can malfunction in a brain injury.

The Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe (in green).

The frontal lobe (in green) • tumblr

In head injuries, damage to the frontal lobe is thought to occur frequently. Car crashes (especially front end collisions, are thought to cause frontal and occipital lobe damage. Damage to the frontal lobe has been reported to cause individuals to behave inappropriately in response to normal social situations. Loud or overly-boisterous exchanges, inappropriate genital touching (in public) or fixation on one subject or person have been reported outcomes after a TBI. Changes in emotional affect (expression of emotions) that are felt may not be expressed in the face or voice. For example, someone who is feeling happy would not smile, and his or her voice would be devoid of emotion. This can be very disconcerting to a partner and can be experienced a loss of affection or interest. How a partner or loved one that is a caretaker of a TBI victim experiences the injury will have a direct effect on their own sexual desire and interest.

Along the same lines, though, the person may also exhibit excessive, unwarranted displays of emotion or poor control of anger. Poor anger management is associated with some forms of frontal lobe damage. Depression is not an uncommon outcome from a head injury, especially if there is frontal lobe damage. Also common along with depression is a loss of or decrease in motivation. Someone might not want to carry out normal daily activities and would not feel “up to it”. Sex might not seem as interesting or motivating.

Those who are close to the person who has experienced the damage may notice that the person no longer behaves like him or herself. The frontal lobe is the same part of the brain that is responsible for executive functions such as planning for the future, judgment, decision-making skills, attention span, and inhibition. These functions can decrease drastically in someone whose frontal lobe is damaged. A short list of behavioral changes associated with frontal lobe damage is given below:

  • Agitation
  • Explosive anger and irritability
  • Lack of awareness and insight
  • Impulsivity and disinhibition
  • Emotional lability
  • Self-centeredness
  • Apathy and poor motivation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inflexibility and obsessionality
  • Sexual problems

Frontal lobe damage is only one part of cerebral cortex, but is the most common type of cortical damage due to a TBI. Other parts may be damaged as well. Frontal lobe damage is common and better associated with impulse and emotional control, making sufferers act completely out of character and unable to control or edit themselves or their responses.

Putting it Together

So, after reading all of this, what does it do for you? How does this help you re-establish the emotional, sexual and intimate relationship you wish with your partner? As a caretaker, or as a sufferer, the TBI is a big elephant in the room. It exists; it takes up space in your life, even though it can’t be seen. The person you knew is not present…they have not come back from their injury and they might not come back. Some do recover, others do not. But you can still create a new bond, a new relationship and a new life. And you can fight to repair the damage to the brain.

There are limited options for therapy in current medical practice. Mostly, it is focused on developing new skills, relearning old ones, developing coping skills or taking medications. That’s just for the TBI sufferer, not the caretaker(s). The complexity and variety of problems that pop-up when dealing with a brain injury are truly staggering and expensive. Fortunately, the majority of mild-to-moderate TBI’s do recover. Patience and persistence in therapy are required in order to make a recovery.

Unfortunately, for a portion of all TBI sufferers, recovery may take years. That is a long-time to wait. Therapies that help to re-build the brain connections (neuroplasticity) or restore blood flow to the brain hold promise for restoring function again. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is one such therapy that has a good number of clinical studies to support its use for chronic TBI and PCS [4-9]. Near infra-red and infra-red technologies show promise for a TBI therapy, as well [10-13].

Nutritional support, such as Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), has shown the ability to reduce the long-term neuroinflammation associated with a TBI [14-16] and help with white matter repair. Other nutritional therapies may exist to help mediate repair in a TBI.

The take home message is that there are potential therapies that are being developed to help treat the neurological damage of a TBI. Take heart that the “new normal” for yourself or your loved one may not need to be permanent.

  1. Wilkinson, C.W., et al., High prevalence of chronic pituitary and target-organ hormone abnormalities after blast-related mild traumatic brain injury. Front Neurol, 2012. 3: p. 11.
  2. Kopczak, A., et al., Screening for hypopituitarism in 509 patients with traumatic brain injury or subarachnoid hemorrhage. J Neurotrauma, 2014. 31(1): p. 99-107.
  3. Pekic, S. and V. Popovic, Chapter 18 – Alternative causes of hypopituitarism: traumatic brain injury, cranial irradiation, and infections, in Handbook of Clinical Neurology, M.K. Eric Fliers and A.R. Johannes, Editors. 2014, Elsevier. p. 271-290.
  4. Boussi-Gross, R., et al., Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Improve Post Concussion Syndrome Years after Mild Traumatic Brain Injury – Randomized Prospective Trial. PLoS One, 2013. 8(11): p. e79995.
  5. Wolf, G., et al., The effect of hyperbaric oxygen on symptoms after mild traumatic brain injury. J Neurotrauma, 2012. 29(17): p. 2606-12.
  6. Harch, P.G., et al., A phase I study of low-pressure hyperbaric oxygen therapy for blast-induced post-concussion syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. J Neurotrauma, 2012. 29(1): p. 168-85.
  7. Lin, J.W., et al., Effect of hyperbaric oxygen on patients with traumatic brain injury. Acta Neurochir Suppl, 2008. 101: p. 145-9.
  8. Shi, X.Y., et al., Evaluation of hyperbaric oxygen treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders following traumatic brain injury. Chin Med J (Engl), 2006. 119(23): p. 1978-82.
  9. Wright, J.K., et al., Case report: Treatment of mild traumatic brain injury with hyperbaric oxygen. Undersea Hyperb Med, 2009. 36(6): p. 391-9.
  10. Grillo, S.L., et al., Non-invasive infra-red therapy (1072 nm) reduces beta-amyloid protein levels in the brain of an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model, TASTPM. J Photochem Photobiol B, 2013. 123: p. 13-22.
  11. Gkotsi, D., et al., Recharging mitochondrial batteries in old eyes. Near infra-red increases ATP. Exp Eye Res, 2014. 122: p. 50-3.
  12. Quirk, B.J., et al., Near-Infrared Photobiomodulation in an Animal Model of Traumatic Brain Injury: Improvements at the Behavioral and Biochemical Levels. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, 2012. 30(9): p. 7.
  13. Naeser, M.A., et al., Significant Improvements in Cognitive Performance Post-Transcranial, Red/Near-Infrared Light-Emitting Diode Treatments in Chronic, Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Open-Protocol Study. JOURNAL OF NEUROTRAUMA, 2014. 31: p. 10.
  14. Pu, H., et al., Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation improves neurologic recovery and attenuates white matter injury after experimental traumatic brain injury. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab, 2013. 33(9): p. 1474-84.
  15. Lewis, M., P. Ghassemi, and J. Hibbeln, Therapeutic use of omega-3 fatty acids in severe head trauma. Am J Emerg Med, 2013. 31(1): p. 273 e5-8.
  16. Hasadsri, L., et al., Omega-3 fatty acids as a putative treatment for traumatic brain injury. J Neurotrauma, 2013. 30(11): p. 897-906.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. I am not giving medical advice, diagnosis or treatment recommendations. The posts on this blog are my opinion. If you are thinking of following or using any of this information for any health related conditions, I would recommend you talk to your physician and seek guidance and help. I try to be as meticulous as possible in the information I use for these posts. I look for potential therapies that are low-risk/high impact. There are no guarantees, but knowledge is power and self-direction can lead you to uncover and do incredible things.

Source: Brain Injury and Sex: What Happens After a TBI? | Brain Health & Healing Foundation

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[BLOG POST] Menses and Sexual Changes in Women After Trauma – H.O.P.E TBI

Menses and Sexual Changes in Women After Trauma

Blood cells

What is the endocrine system?

Your endocrine system includes glands and organs that make and release hormones, which are chemicals that help your body work properly. They control growth, sexual development, how your body uses and stores energy (metabolism), how it deals with illness, and more. You need proper types and amounts of hormones to feel well.

How can TBI affect the endocrine system?

Two important parts of the endocrine system—the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus—are located in or near the brain. The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are like orchestra conductors. Their job is to tell other endocrine glands throughout the body to make the hormones that affect and protect every aspect of your health. TBI can injure them, causing hormone problems. A person with TBI may have hormone problems right away or months or even years after the injury.

Menses and Sexual Changes in Women After Brain Trauma

Repeated mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) occurring over an extended period of time can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive deficits. Repeated mild TBIs occurring within a short period of time (i.e., hours, days, or weeks) can be catastrophic or fatal.

After TBI, there may be some changes to the pituitary. The Pituitary is a pea-sized gland in your brain that makes hormones that help to keep your periods regular every month. When the pituitary makes low levels of certain hormones, this can mean having skipped or missed periods. Stress can cause your hormone levels to change. This can also change your periods. Certain medications can also cause changes to your periods. Ask your doctor about the side effects of the medications you are taking.endocrine3

Recent research indicates there is a higher incidence of hormone abnormalities in people who have sustained a brain injury.  This is directly related to injury of the hypothalamus, and pituitary gland and all the hormones they produce or stimulate to produce, including thyroid hormone, growth hormone, cortisol, and the sex hormones (FSH, LH, Prolactin, estrogen, and testosterone).  It is more common to see these abnormalities early on after a brain injury but they can come on as a long term consequence.  The hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland, are small structures at the base of the brain responsible for regulating the body’s hormones. Damage to these areas can lead to insufficient or increased release of one or more hormones, which causes disruption of the body’s ability to maintain a stable internal environment (homeostasis).  Damage to the pituitary gland leads to a reduction in hormone production resulting in a condition known as hypopituitarism. Medication and other medical illnesses should be ruled out as the cause of any hormone
abnormalities as well.

Chart

Women experience greater cognitive decline, poorer reaction times, more headaches, extended periods of depression, longer hospital stays and delayed return-to-work compared to men following head injury. Such results are particularly pronounced in women of childbearing age; girls who have not started their period and post-menopausal women have outcomes similar to men.

At one year after injury, negative outcomes (persistent physical symptoms, requiring assistance with cognitive difficulties, social and occupational difficulties, reduced quality of life) were repeated more frequently by those who were female, older, and had received more severe injuries.  However, among patient with mTBI injuries it has been identified that 24% of patients who suffered with persistent symptoms and significant life disruption at 3 months post injury were more likely to be young and female, had a prior head injury, neuro/psychiatric symptoms, or a TBI as a result of a motor vehicle accident.

Menstrual troubles such as amenorrhea, or the absence of a period, and irregular cycles are more common in women with TBI. The mean duration of amenorrhea was 6.5 months with a range of 1 – 60 months.  There was one participant whose menses stopped at time of injury and had not returned by time of interview.

After a TBI you may have skipped or missed periods. You may also have more pain or notice more headaches during your periods. You may notice changes to your periods while in the hospital, rehabilitation or at home. These changes can happen in mild to more serious injuries. Still, absence of a menses is more likely to happen when the brain injury is serious. Skipping or missing your period can last from 1 month to many years. For many women, the changes to their periods get better with time, but not always.

Of 104 women with TBI (W-TBI), 46% experienced amenorrhea with duration of up to 60 months. Cycles became irregular for 68% of W-TBI after the injury. These findings were significantly different from those of controls. Among W-TBI, menstrual disturbances were associated with injury severity. No differences were shown between W-TBI and controls with respect to fertility, although significantly fewer W-TBI had one or more live births, and they reported more difficulties in the postpartum period than controls. W-TBI were less likely to have regular Pap smears and reported lower mental health, self-rated health, and function.

Significantly fewer (49%) reported changes in menstrual flow after injury compared with the control counterparts (64%).  Matched case-control conditional regression analyses showed that W-TBI were 21 times more likely than controls to report amenorrhea after injury; for those with regular cycles, W-TBI were 6 times more likely to experience irregular cycles.  Among W-TBI, amenorrhea was associated with lower GCS Scores, Higher ISS, and longer length of acute hospital stays.  Irregular periods emerging after the injured were significantly associated with higher ISS only.

Pregnancy/Fertility – 28% of W-TBI indicated that they tried to conceive or became pregnant after their TBI vs. 35% of controls during a comparable time period.  Hence, the subgroups for these analyses are smaller in size.

Changes in sexual functioning are common after TBI as well. Brain Injury can change the way a person expresses or experiences their sexuality. There are many reasons sexual problems happen after TBI. Some are directly related to damage to the brain. Others are related to physical problems or changes in thinking or relationships.

No significant group differences were found in terms of difficulty conceiving or difficulties during pregnancy after injury.  Those who became pregnant however, significantly fewer W-TBI had one or more live births compared with controls.  W-TBI were also more likely to report post pregnancy difficulties in the pregnancies that occurred after the brain injury compared with controls in the equivalent time period.  The 12 women reported the following: Increased fatigue, pain, depression, mobility problems, inability to concentrate and lower extremity edema. Three women who did not report depression reported “feeling the blues” and 1 woman reported hip pain/headaches.

These findings inform prognosis after TBI for women and provide evidence for long-term monitoring of health outcomes and increased support after childbirth. More research is needed in this area, particularly with respect to the neuroendocrine system.

“I don’t think doctors consider menstrual history when evaluating a patient after a concussion, but maybe we should,” noted Bazarian, associate professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry who treats patients and conducts research on traumatic brain injury and long-term outcomes among athletes. “By taking into account the stage of their cycle at the time of injury we could better identify patients who might need more aggressive monitoring or treatment. It would also allow us to counsel women that they’re more – or less – likely to feel poorly because of their menstrual phase.”

Although media coverage tends to focus on concussions in male professional athletes, studies suggest that women have a higher incidence of head injuries than men playing sports with similar rules, such as ice hockey, soccer and basketball. Bazarian estimates that 70 percent of the patients he treats in the URMC Sport Concussion Clinic are young women. He believes the number is so high because they often need more follow-up care. In his experience, soccer is the most common sport leading to head injuries in women, but lacrosse, field hockey, cheerleading, volleyball and basketball can lead to injuries as well.

sex and tbi

Sex hormone levels often change after a head injury, as women who have suffered a concussion and subsequently missed one or more periods can attest. According to Kathleen M. Hoeger, M.D., M.P.H.,study co-author and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, any stressful event, like a hit to the head, can shut down the pituitary gland in the brain, which is the body’s hormone generator. If the pituitary doesn’t work, the level of estrogen and progesterone would drop quickly.

According to Bazarian, progesterone is known to have a calming effect on the brain and on mood. Knowing this, his team came up with the “withdrawal hypothesis”: If a woman suffers a concussion in the premenstrual phase when progesterone levels are naturally high, an abrupt drop in progesterone after injury produces a kind of withdrawal which either contributes to or worsens post concussive symptoms like headache, nausea, dizziness and trouble concentrating. This may be why women recover differently than men, who have low pre-injury levels of the hormone.

“If you get hit when progesterone is high and you experience a steep drop in the hormone, this is what makes you feel lousy and causes symptoms to linger,” said Bazarian. “But, if you are injured when progesterone is already low, a hit to the head can’t lower it any further, so there is less change in the way you feel.”

The team suspected that women taking birth control pills, which contain synthetic hormones that mimic the action of progesterone, would have similar outcomes to women injured in the low progesterone phase of their cycle. As expected, there was no clear difference between these groups, as women taking birth control pills have a constant stream of sex hormones and don’t experience a drop following a head hit, so long as they continue to take the pill.

“Women who are very athletic get several benefits from the pill; it protects their bones and keeps their periods predictable,” noted Hoeger. “If larger studies confirm our data, this could be one more way in which the pill is helpful in athletic women, especially women who participate in sports like soccer that present lots of opportunities for head injuries.”

In addition to determining menstrual cycle phase at the time of injury, Bazarian plans to scrutinize a woman’s cycles after injury to make sure they are not disrupted. If they are, the woman should make an appointment with her gynecologist to discuss the change.

sexandtbi

How does a traumatic brain injury affect sexual functioning?

The following changes in sexual functioning can happen after TBI:

  • Decreased Desire: Many people may have less desire or interest in sex.
  • Increased Desire: Some people have increased interest in sex after TBI and may want to have sex more often than usual. Others may have difficulty controlling their sexual behavior. They may make sexual advances in inappropriate situations or make inappropriate sexual comments.
  • Decreased Arousal: Many people have difficulty becoming sexually aroused. This means that they may be interested in sex, but their bodies do not respond. Men may have difficulty getting or keeping an erection. Women may have decreased vaginal lubrication (moisture in the vagina).
  • Difficulty or Inability to Reach Orgasm/Climax: Both men and women may have difficulty reaching orgasm or climax. They may not feel physically satisfied after sexual activity.
  • Reproductive Changes: Women may experience irregular menstrual cycles or periods. Sometimes, periods may not occur for weeks or months after injury. They may also have trouble getting pregnant. Men may have decreased sperm production and may have difficulty getting a woman pregnant.

Possible causes of changes in sexual functioning after TBI include:

  • Damage to the Brain: Changes in sexual functioning may be caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control sexual functioning.
  • Hormonal Changes: Damage to the brain can affect the production of hormones, like testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen. These changes in hormones affect sexual functioning.
  • Medication Side Effects: Many medications commonly used after TBI have negative side effects on sexual functioning.
  • Fatigue/Tiredness: Many people with TBI tire very easily. Feeling tired, physically or mentally, can affect your interest in sex and your sexual activity.
  • Problems with Movement: Spasticity (tightness of muscles), physical pain, weakness, slowed or uncoordinated movements, and balance problems may make it difficult to have sex.
  • Self-Esteem Problems: Some people feel less confident about their attractiveness after TBI. This can affect their comfort with sexual activity.
  • Changes in Thinking Abilities: Difficulty with attention, memory, communication, planning ahead, reasoning, and imagining can also affect sexual functioning.
  • Emotional Changes: Individuals with TBI often feel sad, nervous, or irritable. These feelings may have a negative effect on their sexual functioning, especially their desire for sex.
  • Changes in Relationships and Social Activities: Some people lose relationships after TBI or may have trouble meeting new people. This makes it difficult to find a sexual partner.

Problems Reported by Females with TBI regarding sexual activity include:

  • Inadequate energy for sex
  • Problems with initiation and arousal
  • Dificulty reaching orgasm
  • Inability to masterbate
  • Low sex drive or  no sex drive
  • Painful sex
  • Problems with orgasm and lubrication
  • Decreased sensation
  • Discomfort in positioning
  • Depression
  • Endocrine/hormonal problems
  • Urogenital problems

Less Reported Symptoms:

  • Safety concerns (impulsivity, judgement,promiscuity, sexual agressiveness)
  • Disinhibition and surging hormones (hypersexuality)

 

 

References:

Womens Reproductive Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (pdf)
Menstrual Phase as Predictor of Outcome After Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Women (pdf)
Brain Injury and Sexual Issues
Sexuality After Traumatic Brain Injury
Women’s health outcomes after traumatic brain injury
Effects of Brain Injury and Hormonal Changes
Menstrual cycle influences concussion outcomes
Traumatic Brain Injury
Women face additional challenges after traumatic brain injury
Headaches are common in year following traumatic brain injury, especially among females
Does brain injury cause early onset menopause
Women At War
Traumatic brain injury outcomes
Womens Health Outcomes After Traumatic Brain Injury

Source: Menses and Sexual Changes in Women After Trauma | H.O.P.E TBI

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