Woman Develops Kleptomania After Plastic Surgery

The surgery may have starved parts of her brain of oxygen, resulting in neurological damage. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Some people use plastic surgery as a way to reinvent themselves, but it seems one woman got more than she bargained for. After a few nips, tucks, and enhancements, a woman in Brazil developed a spell of kleptomania, an irresistible urge to steal.

While all operations are inherently risky, such an outcome is highly unusual and may be the first such case in the literature. And it seems to be more than just a convenient excuse for being caught in the act: scans revealed that certain areas of the brain had been injured as a result of oxygen starvation, which likely drove the bizarre symptoms.

Described in BMJ Case Reports, the individual was a 40-year-old Brazilian woman who underwent multiple plastic surgery procedures back in 2013, including breast enhancement, liposuction, and an arm lift, Live Science reports. When it was all over, it didn’t take long for doctors to realize that something untoward may be going on.

Immediately after surgery, the woman was disoriented, drowsy, apathetic, and displayed memory problems. Searching for potential complications, doctors therefore decided to perform two different brain imaging techniques on the patient. These revealed a restriction of blood flow and oxygen to a region involved in learning and memory, the caudate nuclei, resulting in tissue injury. In addition, several other areas showed inadequate perfusion, including regions involved in emotion and behavior.

After being released, the woman began to repeatedly experience intrusive thoughts and developed a compelling urge to steal things, accompanied by a sense of relief when she acted upon these recurrent drives. On one occasion, her sticky fingers wound her up at the police station. They let her go though, after learning about her neurologic condition.

Thankfully for the woman, her kleptomania resolved itself over a matter of weeks, and so doctors have described this unusual case as “transitory impulse control disorder.” In the absence of a history of mental illness or substance abuse, the medical team thinks that the surgery is to blame, during which parts of her brain became starved of oxygen and nutrients and therefore damaged. More specifically, they think that her kleptomania arose as a result of a lack of inhibition from the caudate nuclei to other brain circuits. But because the injury wasn’t severe, the brain was able to repair itself and the symptoms resolved on their own.

Although there don’t seem to be any reports of kleptomania arising from plastic surgery, the authors do note that there have been cases of the condition either arising or worsening after traumatic brain injury or brain surgery. In addition, there has been one other report of kleptomania developing after part of a patient’s brain became similarly starved of blood and oxygen.

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