A conference in the US later this month will tackle an underappreciated medical issue: brain concussions in girls and women.
Concussions in male athletes, such as football players and boxers, appear to get the most research attention, but in a 2012 position statement, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine said that in sports that are played the same way, female athletes sustain more concussions, have symptoms that are more severe and take longer to recover than their male counterparts.
When physicians, researchers and scientists gather at Georgetown University later this month, they will tackle what they say is an underappreciated medical issue: brain concussions in girls and women.
The International Summit on Female Concussion and TBI on February 27 at Georgetown University in Washington DC is the first known scientific meeting to discuss concussions in girls and women. It will feature presentations and workshops with at least three dozen researchers, and will also host panels of sports reporters and female athletes who have had multiple concussions. The event is co-hosted by Georgetown University Medical Center and the non-profit advocacy group PINKconcussions.
Researchers aim to understand what is known and what isn’t in the clinical presentation and outcomes of concussions in girls and women, not only through athletics, but as a result of domestic violence, military combat and accidents.
Their goal is to develop a “white” paper on what gender-specific clinical practices and safety protocols should be researched as well as possible new strategies to treat females with concussions.
“The concussion research conducted to date on sex differences shows females on average have different injury rates, symptoms and rates of recovery than men.” says Katherine Snedaker, a Connecticut clinical social worker who founded PINKconcussions, the first organization in the world to focus on solely on females with concussions from sports, abuse, accidents and military service.
“Yet the medical community does not yet have any sex-specific guidelines, protocols or resources for females with concussions.”
Snedaker says that because females appear to need longer time to recover than males, they should be educated about this possibility in order to reset their expectations, and line up medical and social support if needed for a longer recovery.
Snedaker became interested in the issue of concussion recovery not only because she says she has had a “double digit” number of concussions — from field hockey, car accidents and other accidents that each resulted in 6-8 weeks of headaches — but because her son was concussed when he was in the sixth grade and experienced post concussion syndrome for two years.
Her son’s experience led Snedaker to lead a city-wide concussion plan which tracks concussions across all 11,000 school children; she also helped get concussion guidelines enacted for all youth sports in her hometown of Norwalk, Connecticutt. Data she and school nurses have collected demonstrates a high prevalence of concussions in girls. “While we have found that fewer girls play sports compared with boys, for the last year-and-a-half of collection, the girl athletes have concussed at twice the rate as the boys,” she says.
Snedaker says the Georgetown summit will “be an educational event for those who attend,” and she hopes the researchers will develop “recommendations on what gender-specific clinical practices and safety protocols should be researched and/or implemented to best treat females with concussions.”
The scientific chair of the summit, David Milzman, MD, is associate dean and professor of emergency medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and an emergency physician at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
“There is very little solid data now about sex in concussion presentation or outcomes. It is not clear there is a difference — and that is why we need to investigate it,” he said.
If differences do exist, it may be due to a number of reasons, he says, including fluctuations in the estrogen cycle and lower body mass and musculature supporting the neck and head.