Female athletes face concussion risks

Water Polo is a rough sport. UCLA athlete Jenna Murphy has certainly taken a few blows to her head. She kept playing despite serious symptoms.

"I was having headaches, sensitivity to light, trouble concentrating. So finally I admitted to my symptoms and they pulled me out," said Murphy.

Twenty-four-year-old Katrina Majewski 's field hockey career was cut short after she suffered her 8th concussion in 5 years.

"I couldn't pay attention in class. I couldn't drive at all. I had an attention span of maybe five minutes," said Majewski.

"People have been studying brain injury as if all brain injury was male, and typically 25 years of age," said Dr. David Hovda.

But recent research suggests in sports both men and women play, female athletes suffer a higher percentage of concussions than males.

"Because of the smaller head and weaker neck they would more likely to have a mild traumatic brain injury than a young man based on the same biomechanical load of the brain," said Dr. Hovda.

When a concussion occurs, the brain is violently shifted inside the skull, often causing bruising.

"Women have really been sort of in the dark. And this has been a little dirty secret," said Dr. Jill Brooks, clinical neuropsychologists.

A recent Ohio State University study shows high school soccer, girls had a higher rate of concussion than boys, by 68-percent. And in high school basketball, girls also had concussion rate nearly three times higher than boys.

Hormones could be one culprit. Estrogen and testosterone may protect the brain differently exactly how remains a mystery. Muscular differences between men and women are another potential cause. Experts say the long-term effects can be serious.

"They may develop depression, they may develop in addition to that difficulties with impulsivity control, lack of control, irrational behavior," said Dr. Robert Cantu.

Though Jenna loves her sport, she's decided it's not worth the risk.

"I have so much after this. I'm 22 years old and there's a lot more out there for me," said Majewski.

Researchers say boys are more likely to get medical attention faster than girls. Female athletes say they're less likely to report symptoms because of fears they won't be taken seriously or will be labeled a complainer. Doctors advise players not to delay. All head trauma should be addressed immediately.



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