Teen girls at increased risk of concussions

The North Shore Girls Soccer Club

The North Shore Girls Soccer Club won’t be going to the United States for any tournaments or games for at least the next four months. (The North Shore Girls Soccer Club)

Concussions in young people are a serious public health issue. And now, there’s a new and disturbing trend.

Doctors have noticed that teenage girls have a harder time with head injuries than boys do, according to a study published earlier Monday. 

A sports medicine specialist in North Carolina analysed the medical records of more than 200 athletes between 11 and 18 years of age. Each was diagnosed with their first concussion. There were fairly equal numbers of boys and girls, and each child received similar kinds of advice and treatment. But it turns out that there was a big difference between the boys and the girls. Boys recovered faster than did girls.

Among the boys, the median duration of typical symptoms of concussion such headache, dizziness and fuzzy headedness was 11 days —that means half the boys had symptoms for less than 11 days and half had symptoms for more than 11 days. Among the girls, the median duration of symptoms was 28 days. Just 25 per cent of the boys had symptoms longer than three weeks but close to 60 per cent of the girls had concussion symptoms lasting longer than three weeks.

The author of the study says that his findings confirm what experts in sports medicine have believed for some time. A Canadian study of more than 3,000 children diagnosed with a concussion in the ER also found that girls are twice as likely as boys to have long-term symptoms. Doctors have known for some time that teenage athletes take longer in general to recover from concussions than college athletes do and other studies have suggested that girls fare worse than boys. A large study of college athletes in the U.S. found that women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with a concussion. 

There are several reasons why researchers think girls with concussions have a harder time of it. One is that many doctors fail to realize that teen girls are at least as prone, if not more prone, to concussion than boys, which means their patients don’t get access to early treatment advice. Some may not realize that hard contact sports aren’t the only ones that lead to concussion.  Soccer players have among the highest rates of concussion and volleyball can also lead to concussion.  Cheerleading is also a significant cause of concussions.

Another reason why girls may be at greater risk is that concussions can worsen pre-existing conditions like headaches, depression anxiety and stress and all are of those are more prevalent in girls than in boys. It so happens that all of these track with symptoms of concussion, therefore, it’s not a stretch to believe that girls have more concussions and more prolonged concussive symptoms because of pre-existing conditions. 

Alternatively, doctors may be over-diagnosing migraines, anxiety and depression and under-diagnosing concussions in teen girls.  

The author of the study published today says that when he assesses teen girls in his sports medicine practice, he asks them if they have migraine headaches, stress, anxiety or depression. He says it’s important for health professionals to keep in mind that in many cases, these other conditions are present but have yet to be diagnosed. Just because a teenage girl complains of headaches following a head injury doesn’t mean the headaches are caused by the head injury. The doctor says he always asks teenage girls about a history of headaches prior to the injury; if she has, then the headaches are more likely due to migraine than concussion. The same logic applies to pre-existing anxiety.

Parents have an important role to play in getting their teenage daughters the help they need. But first, they need to recognize the symptoms of a concussion. Teens may appear dazed, stunned or confused about events. They may answer questions slowly and repeat questions. They may not be able to recall events prior to or following the head injury.  Parents may also notice behavior and personality changes.  In the weeks following a head injury, your teen may forget the class schedule or assignments. If your teen has any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.

If your child or teen is diagnosed with a concussion, she probably needs more time to heal than an adult. They need to limit activities, especially exercise. Activities that involve a lot of concentration, such as studying, working on the computer or playing video games may worsen concussion symptoms. 

Consult with your child’s family doctor or pediatrician before returning to full activities especially team sports. As they resume normal activities, teens should be encouraged to take rest breaks as needed and spend fewer hours at school. They should also get more time to take tests and assignments and reduce the time they spend reading, writing, or on the computer.

Take care of these things now to avoid problems later on.

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CBC | Health News