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Avoiding Obesity While Treating Traumatic Brain Injury

 October 18, 2018

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

It is always a good idea to maintain a healthy diet and get some exercise. According to a recent study, it is especially important to engage in these activities following a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The reason is that obesity compounds the health problems that survivors face during recovery.

One thing that TBI and obesity share is that both can cause permanent disability. It only makes sense to avoid experiencing one right after the other. Research explains that the weight gain is the result of medications, changes in thinking or behavioral changes, physical limitations, and lack of transportation. Yet, immediately following a serious brain injury, patients lose weight due to an increased metabolic rate.

Out of 7,300 TBI patients who underwent inpatient rehabilitation, 23 percent were obese, 36 percent were overweight, 39 percent were normal weight, and 3 percent were underweight. The average age was 46. All were assessed from one to 25 years after their injury.

The health conditions associated with obesity include high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes. More importantly, in terms of the study, researchers linked the frequency of seizures with body weight and overall health. Seizures are a common problem among traumatic brain injury survivors.

The list of physical symptoms related to traumatic brain injury include loss of consciousness, persistent headaches, nausea, clear fluids draining from the nose or ears, the inability to awaken from sleep and loss of coordination. In terms of cognitive or mental symptoms, patients experience profound confusion, agitation, combativeness and slurred speech.

One very specific symptom related to weight gain is damage to hormonal glands. To avoid permanent disorders, hormone replacement therapy is often administered. Damage to the hypothalamus can cause weight changes. The hypothalamus is an area the size of a fingernail at the base of the brain. It releases hormones that control the pituitary gland. Not only is excessive eating and weight gain blamed on damage to this area but that type of weight gain does not respond to diet and exercise.

As specialists in traumatic brain injury, we are proponents of being proactive in terms of managing the condition. Our patients’ lifestyle and health behavior related to weight gain is something we will be taking a closer look at.

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