How Do Concussions Affect Men and Women Differently?

Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury typically caused by a blow to the head. The sudden stop causes the brain the bounce around or twist inside the skull, damaging brain cells. Depending on severity, concussion symptoms can include headache, amnesia, confusion, loss of consciousness, vomiting, fatigue, poor balance, inability to sleep, irritability, and light sensitivity. But recent research has posed the question: are men and women affected differently by concussion injuries?

Concussion Symptoms in Men

According to research, male brains tend to have a faster and more robust inflammatory response than female brains after injury, with more brain tissue loss in the first week after the injury. So they are more likely than women to show immediate signs of concussion damage. However, they are also more likely to try to hide their symptoms and “tough it out” due to gender-related social expectations.

Concussion Symptoms in Women

Studies of collegiate athletes suggest that women may be more likely to suffer from concussions and to display concussion symptoms. Concussions can occur when a person’s head is moved violently in one direction, and lower muscle tone in the neck region can make this type of concussion more likely. Women tend to have less muscular necks compared to men, so they are more likely to experience this type of concussion. Furthermore, while men may choose to “tough it out” and not say anything about their symptoms, a woman who’s experienced a head injury may be more inclined to speak up and seek treatment, making the injury seem more common among this demographic.

Who is More Affected?

The proper way to recover from a concussion includes sleeping 8 hours a night, napping during the day, and eating a diet rich in brain-boosting foods like cold water fish and berries. The age of the concussed individual can have a significant impact on recovery; for example, college students who also participate in sports seldom have the time for adequate sleep or the money for proper nutrition, making recovery more difficult. 

Although these factors affect men and women fairly equally, it’s important to note the prevalence of concussive injuries among female athletes. Furthermore, they seem to experience a longer duration of symptoms than men. Increased media attention on concussions in primarily-male sports like football have led to improvements in protective equipment and concussion monitoring for male athletes, so it is possible that female concussions are being ignored as a result.

The culture of “toughing it out” no longer serves athletes of any gender. We must encourage athletes to pay attention to head injuries at all levels. Mild traumatic brain injury can turn into a major, lifelong health challenge if medical advice is not followed.

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