Weight gain after TBI could have long-term health consequences
Weight changes are common after a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but new research indicates becoming overweight or obese after a moderate to severe TBI also raises the risk of chronic diseases later in life.
The study, published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation (JHTR) indicate that new strategies may be needed to manage weight and similar health conditions for TBI survivors, especially those with disabilities.
“Being obese or overweight presents a health risk in the years following rehabilitation for TBI,” write the researchers, led by Laura E. Dreer, Ph.D., of The University of Alabama at Birmingham.
As the researchers explain, TBI survivors often lose weight during the early recovery period because of changes in metabolic rate. However, weight change is common for many later in recovery, due to medical conditions, medications, long-term cognitive or behavioral changes, or disability.
“Achieving and maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity following a TBI are critical goals for recovery,” the researchers write.
In the study, the team assessed health data from 7,287 adults with traumatic brain injury who had undergone inpatient acute rehabilitation including intensive therapy provided by a team of specialists intended to improve physical and mental functioning.
Of the participants, approximately three-fourths were men, and the average age was 46-years-old.
The researchers evaluated the association between body weight and health outcomes between one and 25 years after TBI. According to the data from the most recent follow-up assessments, 23% of the TBI survivors were classified as obese, 36% were overweight, 39% were normal weight, and 3% were underweight.
Individuals under 30-years-old or over 80-years-old were less likely to be classified as overweight or obese. However, overall the percentage of obese patients tended to increase over time, especially after five or more years following their head injury.
The findings showed that being overweight or obese was significantly linked to several chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and diabetes. In self-assessments, those who were overweight or obese also rated themselves as having poorer general health.
Researchers also observed that the frequency of seizures – which are common for survivors of moderate to severe TBI – increased among those with higher body weights.
Compared to the general population, fewer people overall were obese or overweight. The team suggested this may be because overweight TBI survivors were more likely to experience fatal health complications, rehospitalizations, or other issues.
While the findings are cause for concern, the researchers note that their study was limited by lack of detailed information about the timing of weight and health issues.
“However, these findings do highlight the potential importance of surveillance, prevention, and management of weight and related health conditions during the years postinjury,” wrote Dreer and colleagues.
“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.”