Any kind of surgery involves some kind of risk. But sometimes, there are complications even doctors don’t see coming.
In a rather bizarre case study published recently in the British medical journal Case Reports, doctors reported that a woman who underwent elective cosmetic surgery in Brazil left the operating table not only with a different frame, but also a temporarily decreased ability to control her impulses. Specifically, she developed a mild case of kleptomania—an insatiable compulsion to steal things, despite being able to afford them.
The woman went under the knife to receive liposuction, an arm lift, a tummy tuck, and breast augmentation. When she first woke up, her doctors knew something was amiss: She was lethargic, apathetic, and had bouts of forgetfulness, according to the study. Two lab tests confirmed that during surgery or shortly thereafter, the patient had suffered a hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury, where parts of her brain were damaged due to a temporary lack of oxygen.
According to the study’s co-author, Fábio Nascimento, a neurologist currently associated with Toronto Western Hospital in Canada but previously in Brazil, the most likely explanation is that this injury was a result of deliberate hypotension—a common surgical technique in which doctors artificially lower a patient’s blood pressure to reduce the amount of bleeding during surgery. “Given that the brain has high energy demands…we believe that this deliberate hypotension resulted in inadequate blood flow to her brain,” he told Quartz. In this case, the part of the patient’s brain associated with learning and forming memories had been impaired.
In the following few weeks, the patient suffered from “fairly typical symptoms of kleptomania,” Nascimento told Live Science. She reportedly felt intensely strong urges to steal and a wash of calm after doing so, even though she had the money to buy the items in question. When she was caught shop-lifting, her doctors had to step in to explain her temporary psychiatric condition to police before she was released.
Developing a compulsion to steal post-surgery is exceedingly rare; the authors of the case report only cite one other case of kleptomania that have resulted from brain injury from a lack of oxygen.
Fortunately, the patient’s lack of impulse control resolved itself in a matter of weeks. Nascimento said that the brain was able to heal itself and re-establish the appropriate connection in the injured part of the brain.