Concussions can be life altering as well as life-threatening. Post-concussion syndrome is real and after a head injury, appropriate recovery time is essential to avoid long-term problems. There is also the concern over Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which is a neurobiological condition that can develop after head trauma. Symptoms of CTE include depression, aggression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.
While most first think of football players and boxers because those sports have a high rate of head injuries, the fact is that more women are suffering TBIs than men, but they are historically overlooked in research. According to the group PINK Concussions, a female brain injury advocacy group, the largest brain bank in the world only contains ten brains from women. That's why the organization has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs National PTSD Brain Bank to encourage more women to donate their brains to medical research.
With the attention focused on male-dominated sports like hockey and football, women are overlooked in research studies. While men, in general, are at a higher risk for TBI since more men play high contact sports, head injuries are happening more frequently to women when the numbers are compared between women and men who play the same game, like those who play soccer or basketball. Because brain anatomy is different in women, concussions in females are often more severe and recovery time is longer.
Katherine Snedacker, the founder of PINK Concussions, stated, "We focus on brain injury including concussions through sports, domestic violence, accidents and military service. If you look at the traumatic brain injury brain banks, they've been mostly focusing on men through sports, military service. I have no criticism on anyone, but I think that the focus just wasn't there." In December the organization launched the PINK Brain Pledge to encourage women to donate their brains after they pass away. Having more brain tissue from female athletes and TBI patients can help researchers find better ways to treat head injuries in women.
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While the lack of inclusion of women in brain research is troubling, another part of the problem is that women patients are often hesitant to describe their symptoms fully. There's a feeling among women that they will be seen as malingering or emotional if they complain about symptoms. Snedacker also runs a Facebook page with thousands of users who can get support and find out about medical research and studies on head trauma. While 96% of NFL football players that donated their brains for research after death were found to have CTE, there have been no cases of CTE in women, because the brain tissue isn't available for examination. Hopefully, with more awareness of the need for more women in brain studies, donations will increase. Professional soccer player Brandy Chastian has already pledged her brain for research as have Olympic athletes Elena Meyers Taylor, a bobsledder and Angela Ruggiero and Hayley Wickenhieser, hockey players for Team USA and Team Canada, respectively. The video below has more information on the gender gap in vital brain research, check it out.