Each year in the UK alone, in excess of 1 million people attend an accident and emergency department following a head injury and approaching 150,000 of those are admitted to hospital due to the severity of their injury.
Following such a trauma, many such patients develop symptoms including tiredness and chronic pain. Once other physical causes for these symptoms have been eliminated, they are often diagnosed with conditions relating to central sensitisation such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Fibromyalgia (FM). However, many of those diagnoses could be wrong. What’s more, there is a relatively straightforward test to check.
Post-Traumatic Hypopituitarism (PTHP)
Studies have shown that up to 40% of people who suffer a serious head injury also suffer damage their pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. Although only the size of a pea, the pituitary gland is nevertheless essential to our general wellbeing as it produces hormones which play an important role in regulating vital bodily functions such as the sleep-wake cycle, bodily repair and our reaction to stress.
A damaged pituitary gland may inhibit the production of one or more of those hormones, giving rise to a condition known as Hypopituitarism. Where that damage has been caused traumatically, the condition is known as Post-Traumatic Hypopituitarism (PTHP). Even a seemingly straightforward ‘whiplash’-type injury can cause PTHP.
What are the symptoms of Hypopituitarism?
Symptoms of Hypopituitarism commonly include, but are not limited to:
- Fatigue and/or weakness;
- Joint stiffness;
- Stomach pain, constipation, nausea and vomiting;
- Cold sensitivity;
- Excessive thirst and urination;
- Decreased sex drive;
- Hair loss.
How is Hypopituitarism diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Hypopituitarism is relatively straightforward with a series of blood tests to measure hormone levels and sometimes a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.
Can Hypopituitarism be cured?
Hypopituitarism cannot be cured per se, but lifelong hormone replacement therapy can be very effective in helping sufferers lead a normal, healthy life.
Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
It is estimated that each year in the UK there could be up to 30,000 new cases of PTHP. However, it is increasingly clear that many of these patients are wrongly diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia. This may help to explain why some people fail to respond at all to common treatments and therapies for those conditions.
With the diagnosis and treatment of PTHP being so straightforward, there could easily be hundreds of thousands of people needlessly living with this disabling condition. With that in mind, what is particularly puzzling is why the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) do not include PTHP in its guidance for doctors on treating head injury. As such, there is currently no routine blood screening for PTHP following head injury.