Making Headway on Concussions

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UHN researchers help to explain why females take longer to recover from concussions.
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Traumatic brain injuries often occur through sports and motor vehicle collisions. When mild in severity, they are frequently referred to as concussions.

Why do females take longer to recover from concussions than males?

A team of researchers led by Dr. Angela Colantonio, Senior Scientist at KITE (formerly Toronto Rehabilitation Institute), has found a possible explanation: females are more likely to sustain a neck injury at the time of a concussion.

Concussions are the most common type of mild traumatic brain injury sustained by Canadians. However, the condition is not very well understood. Researchers have only recently begun to uncover the differences between the sexes in response to concussions.

To better understand these differences, Dr. Colantonio’s team examined the health records of over 90,000 female and male patients admitted to an emergency department in Ontario with a mild concussion.

“Females have more distinct and weaker necks which increases the risk of sustaining a neck injury along with a concussion. We suspected that additional neck injuries may contribute to why females take longer to recover,” describes Dr. Colantonio.

In analyzing the health records, the research team found that females with concussions were more likely to experience neck injury than males.

“Neck injuries can be missed during an initial screening in the emergency department because they have similar symptoms as concussions, such as dizziness, unsteadiness and headaches,” explains Dr. Colantonio.

“This research contributes to our understanding of how concussions may be experienced differently by the sexes which informs better care and prevention of injury.”

This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the US National Institutes of Health, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Toronto Rehab Foundation.

Sutton M, Chan V, Escobar M, Mollayeva T, Hu Z, Colantonio A. Neck Injury Comorbidity in Concussion-Related Emergency Department Visits: A Population-Based Study of Sex Differences Across the Life Span. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2018 Dec 28. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2018.7282.

Dr. Angela Colantonio is a Senior Scientist at KITE and the lead author of the study.