Race may play a role in concussion susceptibility, study says

(WNDU) – As many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur every year.

A concussion, also known as a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to either the head or the body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull.

The result of a concussion changes how the brain normally functions.

Signs and symptoms can include headache, nausea, fatigue, confusion or memory problems, sleep disturbances, or mood changes. Symptoms are typically noticed right after the injury, but some might not be recognized until days or weeks later. For males, the leading cause of high school sports concussion is football, and for females the leading cause of high school sports concussion is soccer.

There’s lots of research that looks into which sports are more prone to concussions on how concussions differ among genders.

But does a race play a role?

There is a lack of research on the association of race on sport-related concussions. While racism and racial biases have been known to impact health outcomes, new research was conducted to compare outcomes and management of sport-related concussion among black and white athletes.

Researchers interviewed 247 (211 white patients, 36 black patients) 3 months after initial concussion or until treatments resolved, up to one year after the injury, to obtain demographic, medical history, concussion-related, and insurance information.

Symptom resolution occurred at a median 21 days for white athletes and a median 12 days for Black athletes. Multivariable analysis indicated Black athletes reached asymptomatic status more quickly compared with white athletes, and male athletes reached it sooner compared with female athletes. Returns to school tended to occur after two days for white athletes and less than a day for Black athletes.

Researchers concluded that racial differences appeared to exist in the outcomes and experience of sport-related concussion and therefore should be considered as an important social determinant in treatment.

“The history of prior concussions and how symptomatic you are at presentation are two major factors to your recovery,” said Scott Zuckerman, a neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

In a study, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Alabama looked at white and black athletes ages 12 to 23, who were treated for a sports-related concussion.

“We found that Black athletes were reporting earlier recovery than white athletes,” said Aaron Yengo-Kahn, another neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

On average, black athletes in the study reported fewer concussion symptoms and experience symptoms for 12 days compared to 21 days for white athletes. Black athletes also returned to school quicker. The data is making the researchers question whether there is a psychological factor involved in recovery.

“What are their families telling them about recovering from a sport’s concussion? What are their schools, what are their coaches telling them about concussions?” Zuckerman continued.

Suggesting that certain cultural aspects may lead some athletes to appear to recover faster to get back to sports quicker. However, not getting proper concussion information when it comes to recovery may have harmful long-term effects, such as memory and concentration problems. These researchers believe that this study is just the tip of the iceberg.

“We are just really at the beginning of scratching the surface on how important race is in how it’s related to concussions,” Zuckerman finished.

Two new studies may offer improved care for sports concussion.

A Florida research team found that football helmets do not provide adequate protection against the forces thought to cause concussion. Using a special test apparatus with the head and neck of a crash-test dummy, they measured both the linear and rotational force after football helmets were dropped from a height of two meters onto a steel plate.

It was discovered that the helmets reduced the risk of TBI by only 21 percent on average.

“We’re hopeful that our research will lead to improved testing and warning labels on helmets stating that they may not completely protect the athlete against concussion,” said Francis Conidi, MD, DO, a sports neurologist for the Florida Panthers hockey team.

A second study, led by Laura Balcer, MD, Fellow of the AAN, professor and vice chair of neurology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York, examined how a vision-based test of rapid number naming, performed on the sidelines, might improve concussion diagnosis.

The team looked at the benefits of using the vision-based King-Devick test, which measures how long it takes someone to name numbers on test cards or using an iPad app.

When the researchers added the King-Devick test with the other already performed tests, all the concussions were identified.

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