Female Athletes See Higher Concussion Risk, Despite Focus on Male Athletes

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Source: Brady Martin Collins/Pinterest

While the headlines tend to focus on male-dominated sports like football, more and more research is showing female athletes aren’t safe from the risk of concussions.

In fact, women appear to be notably more likely to experience concussions during their athletics career compared to new men – according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, in Boston.

Based on an analysis of over 1,000 athletes, James M. Noble MD, MS, of Columbia University Medical Center says females were significantly more likely to have sports-related concussions in their career compared to male athletes.

Noble also noted that both men and women who had previously experienced a concussion were three times more likely to have another concussion compared to those with no history of concussion.

“Concussion research has been heavily focused on male sports including football. In our study, both male and female athletes with a history of concussion were more likely to get another concussion, and female athletes particularly appeared to be more prone to recurrent concussion,” Noble told MedPage Today.

“This finding, if it can be further corroborated, may help in patient-centered discussions regarding risk of future concussions,” continued the study’s senior author.

For the study, Noble and colleagues reviewed concussion data collected from 1,203 athletes from Columbia University Athletics, including soccer, basketball, and football players. Over half of the athletes involved in the study (68.3%) were male.

All athletes in the study participated in the school’s concussion plan which regulated a standard concussion protocol to all high-risk athletes including baseline testing, neuropsychological testing, and post-concussion symptom assessments. The researchers also tracked post-concussion symptoms after the athletes returned to play.

Of the 1,203 athletes involved in the study, 227 experienced at least one concussion during their college careers. When compared, 23.1% of the women in the study (88) experienced a concussion compared to 17% of men (140).

The symptoms of those who experienced concussions were largely the same, however a higher percentage of men reported amnesia. On the other hand, insomnia was more common in women after a concussion.

The researchers saw no notable differences between genders in post-concussion neuropsychological testing or time until the athlete returned to play.

The team says it can’t explain why women in sports appear to be at higher risk for sports-related concussions, but the findings highlight the importance of including females in research about concussions.

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