Women More Likely To Suffer Long-Term Harm From Concussions Than Men: Study

According to the findings of a new study, the side effects of concussions may linger among women much longer than among men, resulting in long-term cognitive and somatic harm.

In a study published this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers from Baylor College, the University of California San Francisco, and San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center indicate women between the ages of 35 to 49 suffer symptoms of traumatic brain injury for months longer than men and longer than younger and older women.

Researchers studied 2,000 patients with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), also categorized as a typical concussion or blow to the head. The study was a part of the Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury (TRACK-TBI) conducted from 2014 to 2018. Patients were given the Rivermead Post Concussion Symptoms Questionnaire at 12 months after injury.

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Another 300 patients who did not suffer a concussion, but experienced an orthopedic trauma, served as control patients. All participants were recruited from 18 level I trauma centers and followed up for 12 months.

The findings suggest concussion symptoms, both cognitive and somatic, are significantly worse among women compared to men. Additionally, women between the ages of 35 and 49 suffered worse symptoms when compared to women ages 17 to 34, or women older than 50.

The symptoms women were more likely to experience included memory problems, difficulty concentrating, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Women suffered TBI symptoms up to one year longer than men, according to the findings.

When researchers compared symptoms from the orthopedic trauma group they found no difference in symptoms suffered between men and women, indicating the issue is not any injury suffered by women, but specifically concussion injuries. Women and men had similar recovery times after traumatic injury to other areas of the body.

The findings indicated women had higher rates of depression and anxiety diagnoses prior to suffering concussion compared to men. This may explain some of the increased risk women face, as those are risk factors for prolonged concussion symptoms. However, even after accounting for those factors women still suffered concussion symptoms for longer.

This is not the first study to indicate there is a difference in concussion recovery between men and women. Other studies have suggested women recover more slowly after suffering a concussion regardless of what caused the injury.

Some patients will suffer continued concussion symptoms, including persistent physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Suffering concussions increases the risk of serious side effects later in life, including dementia.

There are roughly 3 million cases of traumatic brain injury treated annually in the United States. Mild traumatic brain injury accounts for 85% of those injuries.

Researchers are unsure why women suffer symptoms longer than men. They hypothesize chronic inflammation in the brain tissue or hormonal changes may play a role. The brain has receptors for estrogen, so if a woman suffers a concussion during a time of the menstrual cycle when estrogen is too low or too high, this may play a role in slower recovery. Yet, more research is needed to focus on the differences and why they persist.

In the meantime, the researchers recommend doctors account for these differences when treating women and understand their concussion symptoms may persist long-term.


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