If you or someone you love has suffered a traumatic brain injury, it can be difficult to try to get back to “normal” life. Seeing a neurosurgeon, sticking to your rehab plan and taking it day by day can all help the process along, but other factors work against your progress. One such factor is obesity.
According to a recent study out of the University of Alabama, obesity can compound the health problems that some TBI survivors face after their injury.
“Achieving and maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are critical goals for recovery,” said lead researcher Laura Dreer, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her colleagues.
Findings from their report “highlight the potential importance of surveillance, prevention and management of weight and related health conditions during the years” after a moderate to severe brain injury, the investigators reported.
Obesity and TBIs
Interestingly, in the wake of a TBI, some survivors lose weight in the first few days and weeks due to the body’s propensity to increase the metabolic rate and the survivor’s potential inability to eat like they normally would. However, as the person heals, that weight loss can turn into weight gain for a number of different reasons. Weight gain after a TBI may be associated with:
- Limited mobility or inability to burn off calories
- Medications that affect metabolism
- Changes in mindset or behavior
- Lack of transportation
For their study, researchers examined nearly 7,300 patients who had suffered a TBI who had undergone inpatient rehabilitation. Body weight was assessed at intake and again at a random interval in the future, ranging between one and 25 years post-injury. At the most recent followup, 23 percent were obese, 36 percent were overweight, 39 percent were normal weight and three percent were under weight.
Individuals who were overweight or obese were also more likely to have several chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, heart failure or diabetes, although no cause-and-effect relationship was proven. Researchers also noted that overweight and obese individuals were more likely to have seizures likely linked to their original head injury than healthy weight individuals.
Researchers concluded that doctors and patients could benefit from understanding the study results and applying them to the right situation after a TBI.
“Lifestyle and health behaviors related to weight gain will need to be a component of any proactive approach to managing TBI as a chronic health condition,” Dreer and her colleagues concluded.