In 2013, a 40-year-old Brazilian woman underwent simultaneous elective surgeries: liposuction, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, and an arm lift. When she woke up, it was immediately clear that something had gone awry: the patient was drowsy, disoriented, apathetic, and experienced memory loss. In the days following the procedure, she began having recurring compulsions to steal, despite having no prior history of mental illness.
The woman’s case was recently detailed in the medical journal BMJ Case Reports. Her doctors performed diagnostic tests and found that the patient’s caudate nucleus — a structure of the brain that influences memory, learning, and social behavior — had been damaged during the procedures. Surgeons believe that the damage was a side effect of “deliberate hypotension,” a standard procedure in which doctors decrease blood pressure to reduce bleeding during surgery. Dr. Fábio Nascimento, co-author of the study, told Quartz that deliberate hypotension can result “in inadequate blood flow to [the] brain,” thus impairing memory and learning functions.
Fortunately, the woman’s kleptomaniac impulses resolved over the course of a few weeks. The brain, Nascimento explained, was able to heal itself after the injury.