Fatigue, slowness, apathy and decrease in level of activity are common long-term complaints after a subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH). They resemble the symptoms frequently found in patients with endocrine dysfunction. Pituitary dysfunction may be the result of SAH or its complications. We therefore hypothesized that it may explain some of the long-term complaints after SAH.
We reviewed the literature to clarify the occurrence, pattern and severity of endocrine abnormalities and we attempted to identify risk factors for hypopituitarism after SAH. We also assessed the effect of hypopituitarism on long-term functional recovery after SAH.
In a MEDLINE search for studies published between 1995 and 2014, we used the term subarachnoid haemorrhage in combination with pituitary, hypopituitarism, growth hormone, gonadotropin, testosterone, cortisol function, thyroid function and diabetes insipidus. We selected all case-series and cohort studies reporting endocrine function at least 3 months after SAH and studied their reported prevalence, pathogenesis, risk factors, clinical course and outcome.
We identified 16 studies describing pituitary function in the long term after SAH. The reported prevalence of endocrine dysfunction varied from 0 to 55% and the affected pituitary axes differed between studies. Due to methodological issues no inferences on risk factors, course and outcome could be made.
Neuroendocrine dysfunction may be an important and modifiable determinant of poor functional outcome after SAH. There is an urgent need for well-designed prospective studies to more precisely assess its incidence, clinical course and effect on mood, behaviour and quality of life.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12883-014-0205-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.