Object. Recognition of pituitary hormonal insufficiencies after head injury and aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) may be important, especially given that hypopituitarism-related neurobehavioral problems are typically alleviated by hormone replacement. In this prospective study the authors sought to determine the rate and risk factors of pituitary dysfunction after head injury and SAH in patients at least 3 months after insult.
Methods. Patients underwent dynamic anterior and posterior pituitary function testing. Results of the tests were compared with those of 18 age-, sex-, and body mass index—matched healthy volunteers. The 22 head-injured patients included 18 men and four women (mean age 28 ± 10 years at the time of injury) with initial Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores of 3 to 15. Eight patients (36.4%) had a subnormal response in at least one hormonal axis. Four were growth hormone (GH) deficient. Five patients (four men, all with normal testosterone levels, and one woman with a low estradiol level) exhibited an inadequate gonadotroph response. One patient had both GH and thyrotroph deficiency and another had both GH deficiency and borderline cortisol deficiency. At the time of injury, all eight patients with pituitary dysfunction had an initial GCS score of 10 or less and, compared with the 14 patients without dysfunction, were more likely to have had diffuse swelling, seen on initial computerized tomography scans (p < 0.05), and to have sustained a hypotensive or hypoxic insult (p = 0.07). Of two patients with SAH who were studied (Hunt and Hess Grade IV) both had GH deficiency.
Conclusions. From this preliminary study, some degree of hypopituitarism appears to occur in approximately 40% of patients with moderate or severe head injury, with GH and gonadotroph deficiencies being most common. A high degree of injury severity and secondary cerebral insults are likely risk factors for hypopituitarism. Pituitary dysfunction also occurs in patients with poor-grade aneurysms. Postacute pituitary function testing may be warranted in most patients with moderate or severe head injury, particularly those with diffuse brain swelling and those sustaining hypotensive or hypoxic insults. The neurobehavioral effects of GH replacement in patients suffering from head injury or SAH warrant further study.