Progesterone and Traumatic Brain Injury

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury and 52,000 die from them every year. There aren’t many treatment options for traumatic brain injury or TBI, as there is little that can be done to reverse the initial brain damage caused by a trauma. Therefore, doctors try to keep patients stable and attempt to prevent more injury to the brain. But the lingering effects for some people with TBI can be devastating. TBI survivors can be plagued with Migraines, frequent headaches, have memory and behavioral issues. This is often what we are seeing in our brave soldiers who return home with TBI. But what if there were a medication that would help treat TBI – wouldn’t that be helpful?

Researchers from Emory University have been studying progesterone to treat TBI and found it to be helpful in animal studies. Dr. Donald Stein is one such researcher who realized years ago that female rats that had high levels of progesterone seemed able to recall how to do certain jobs more efficiently than their male counterparts after suffering an invoked brain injury. Progesterone has been shown to reduce brain swelling (which may lead to the death of brain cells) and it could help in myelin creation. Myelin is the layer of insulation around nerves which allows impulses to transmit quickly from nerve cell to nerve cell. Excited by his research, he wanted to see how progesterone would react in humans. The basis for the ProTECT study is if progesterone is given early after a TBI, it may help reduce swelling in the brain, limit further damage to neurons, and even help with behavior issues that are so common after this type of injury.

The report of a young woman, who suffered a TBI after she was struck by a car while crossing the street in a horrific accident, is remarkable. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, the doctors were gravely concerned about her – “the impact was so severe that they didn’t give us any hope,” the young woman’s mother said. “They didn’t tell us she’d be fine. They didn’t know how bad it was.” She was quickly registered in the ProTECT study and started on an infusion of progesterone for three days. Her recovery has been steady, in fact after exhaustive physical therapy she has learned to walk again.

I found this study very interesting as progesterone showed a 50% reduction in the death rate of patients with severe TBI and a big decrease in the amount of disability in patients with moderate TBI. It seems that if progesterone is given (through an infusion) no later than four hours after suffering a TBI, it can be quite helpful.

Researchers find this information quite exciting as I do, but all agree more work needs to be done in this area. What are your thoughts on this research? Do you find it as intriguing as I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

1.Factsheet. “Get the Stats on Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States.” CDC’s Injury Center. Prevention and Control: Traumatic Brain Injury. July 19, 2012.2. National Institutes of Health. Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Last updated June 14, 2012.3. Progesterone for Traumatic Brain Injury: Experimental Clinical Treatment: Phase III Clinical Trial. “Background of ProTECT III.” July 19, 2012. 4.Tuller, David. “A Hormonal Remedy for the Brain is Explored.” The New York Times. June 18, 2012.

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