Female Athletes Face Higher Risks for Concussions ; Children and Teenagers Are Also More Susceptible, New Research Suggests

Article excerpt

A new study shows that they are more likely to suffer the injuries and deal with prolonged symptoms.

During a soccer game two years ago, Megan Wirtz, a goalie for her high school team, was bending down to pick up a ball when an opposing player mistakenly kicked her in the face.

Her face swollen and bleeding, Megan was taken to an emergency room and stitched up.

No one realized she had suffered a severe concussion until three weeks later, when a player ran into her during another game and she fell to the ground, suffering a seizure on the field.

Doctors think she experienced what is known as second-impact syndrome, a sequence of events in which a child or teenager suffers a hit before a concussion fully heals, which can cause the brain to bleed or swell, even if the second impact is just a moderate one.

"In retrospect, we hadn't thought as much about her brain as we clearly should have," said her mother, Barbara, a nurse in East Lansing, Michigan. "She doesn't have lingering problems like some players do. We were very lucky in that regard. But the reality is if she continues to play, it could happen again."

New research in the latest issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine shows that athletes like Megan may be particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of a concussion.

The research found that younger athletes and those who are female show more symptoms and take longer to recover from a concussion than athletes who are male or older.

More than 1.6 million Americans suffer sports-related concussions every year, and a growing number occur among high school and college athletes. According to government statistics, more than 150,000 teenage athletes suffered concussions on the playing field from 2001 to 2005.

Although researchers have known that girls run a greater risk of suffering concussions than boys playing the same sports, the new study is among the first to look at the effect of both age and sex on a range of symptoms.

The findings suggest that because of anatomical differences that make them more vulnerable, female athletes, and younger athletes in particular, may need to be managed more cautiously after a concussion, said Tracey Covassin, an associate professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University and the lead author of the report.

"Parents need to understand that if their daughter has a concussion, that they may potentially take longer to recover from that concussion than their son who is a football player," she said.

Over the course of two years, Dr. Covassin and her colleagues followed a large group of high school and college athletes from California, Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee. …