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Gender Plays Role in Post-Concussion Healing

Females scored worse than males on neurocognitive tests; reason remains elusive

THURSDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Being female and having a history of concussions both slow recovery from a concussion among young athletes, according to a new study done on soccer players.

The researchers, expected to present their findings Thursday at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., urged doctors and coaches to treat concussions on a case-by-case basis.

"The results of this study suggest that physicians should not be taking a one-size-fits-all approach to treating concussions," co-author Alexis Chiang Colvin, sports medicine fellow for the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said in a news release from the society. "Our study shows that patients with a history of a previous concussion perform worse than patients without a previous history on neurocognitive tests taken after they sustain a concussion. Furthermore, females perform worse than males on post-concussion testing, as well."

A concussion is an injury to the brain that results in temporary loss of normal brain function, usually caused by a blow to the head. Concussions can affect memory, judgment, reflexes, speech, balance and coordination.

The authors chose to examine concussions in soccer players, ranging in age from 8 to 24, because of the sport's popularity, similar rules among both genders, and because helmets are not worn during play.

The study of 234 soccer players (61 percent female, 39 percent male) found that females did much worse than males on reaction time tests. Females also showed more symptoms than males.

Players who had previous concussions performed significantly worse on verbal memory testing after another concussion, the study found.

"There's a theory that males typically have a stronger neck and torso that can handle forces better," Colvin said. "But when we accounted for body-mass index in this study, we still found a difference between males and females. Therefore, there are differences in recovery between genders that cannot simply be attributed to size difference. More studies are needed to determine the reason for differences in recovery between males and females."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about brain and head injuries.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, news release, July 10, 2008

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