It seems that female athletes have an advantage over their male counterparts when it comes to dealing with concussion. This advantage is their ability to recover faster from mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), as concussion is referred to by medical specialists. This is the conclusion reached by US researchers on the basis of a review of medical records and analysis of brain images obtained through an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).
Led by Dr Saeed Fakhran from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the research team analysed results for 69 patients receiving a concussion diagnosis between 2006 and 2013. Within that group, 47 subjects were male and 22 female. In the male contingent 68% had suffered mTBI while participating in a sport, while the respective proportion for the female sample was 45%.
As Dr Fakhran explained, MRI and CT brain scans are not of much help when dealing with concussed patients because the images often look normal. DTI, an advanced MRI technique, makes it possible to spot microscopic changes in the white matter. The technique provides the so-called fractional anisotropy (FA) value, whose abnormally low levels indicate cognitive impairment in brain injury patients. When the researchers studied the DTI scans of their subjects, they found abnormalities in the white matter tract known as uncinate fasciculi (UF). In the case of male patients, the UF FA values were significantly lower than those in female patients. This is important because a statistical analysis showed this value to be of greater importance in determining recovery time than initial symptom severity.
It took 54 days on average for all mTBI patients to recover. However, the gender-based figures were remarkably different: women required 26.3 days on average, while men recovered in 66.9 days on average. These outcomes were not affected by initial symptom severity.