Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) has been linked to mental health disorders (MHDs) and pituitary function alterations. Due to the complex relationship of mTBI, the neuroendocrine system, and MHDs, we propose that neuroendocrine dysfunction (NED) may play a role in negative long-term health outcomes. The goal of this study was to determine if blast-concussed service members (SMs) have a stronger likelihood of developing NED. We hypothesized that NED either pre- or post-injury is associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes. Serum samples from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch were obtained from concussed (n = 59) and non-concussed (n = 72) SMs treated at the Concussion Restoration Care Center (CRCC) in Afghanistan. Serum was collected within 2 years prior to deployment and one or two times within 3 years following their CRCC visit. Samples were analyzed for luteinizing hormone (LH), testosterone, human growth hormone, cortisol, and prolactin to assess post-injury neuroendocrine function. Results indicate that SMs who incurred an mTBI exhibited long-term LH and testosterone deficiencies 3 years following injury compared to controls. Specifically, 47.6% of head-injured SMs displayed hypofunction in at least one of five hormones at 3 years post-injury. Anxiety disorders were the most common MHD observed in concussed SMs with hypopituitarism, while there was also a trend for SMs with chronic pituitary dysfunction to have MHD diagnoses. Findings indicate blast-related mTBI may be associated with long-term health outcomes following a period of incubation. Neuroendocrine screenings may increase treatment opportunities, inform rehabilitation strategies, and improve overall quality of life for patients.
Published 2020. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.