New research finds that girls suffer sports-related concussion symptoms more than twice as long as boys. Adolescent girls with first-time concussions had symptoms for a median duration of 28 days versus 11 days for adolescent boys, according to a study in the October 2017 Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
The researchers believe the prolonged recovery period may be due to such underlying conditions as migraines, depression, anxiety and stress. These pre-existing conditions are more likely to be found in teen girls than boys, says head researcher John Neidecker, DO, a sports concussion specialist who practices in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The study tracked the medical records of 110 male and 102 female athletes 11 to 18 years old, all diagnosed with a concussion for the first time.
While most children recover from a concussion in a few weeks, up to 30 percent have a prolonged recovery of longer than six weeks, says Cynthia LaBella, MD, medical director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Of that longer-recovery group, about 60 percent are girls, she says.
Adolescent girls are more likely to report pre-existing conditions, LaBella says, and a concussion can amplify these symptoms and prolong recovery. “In addition,” she says, “anxiety and depression affect how someone perceives their symptoms and their approach to treatment. Thus, treating anxiety and depression is paramount for helping these kids recover.”
“Pre-existing conditions certainly play a role in recovery,” Neidecker says, adding that underlying conditions often go undiagnosed in kids and teens. “We need to be more sensitive to pre-existing conditions, and we need to do a better job of screening them initially so we can do a better job of managing concussions.”
Originally Published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue
Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.