Despite recent media stories about the potentially devastating effect of sports-related concussions on athlete brains, virtually all of them have focused on male athletes. But a new preliminary study scheduled to be presented at an upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Neurology suggests that female athletes may be even more vulnerable. Led by James Noble of Columbia University, a research team examined 1,203 Columbia University athletes (822 men and 381 women) participating in high-contact sports such as soccer, basketball, and football. Along with testing cognitive and motor skills before and after a concussion, the researchers also looked at the symptoms the athletes displayed and how long it took them to return to playing.
Of the 228 athletes in the study who suffered at least one concussion, women were fifty percent more likely to have a concussion than men though they appear to recover just as quickly. For both male and female athletes, the recovery time for a concussion was about ten days. Men and women also showed significant differences in the symptom they displayed with men being more likely to experience post-concussion amnesia than women. Also, 42 percent of women with concussions developed insomnia compared to 29 percent of men.
"It is unclear why women appear to be at higher risk for sports-related concussions than men," said Noble in a press release provided by the American Academy of Neurology. "The findings from this study highlight the need for more research on the gender differences in concussion." As for what this means for the long-term consequences of repeated concussions for female athletes, that is something that is only beginning to be explored.