Female athletes are more susceptible to sport-related concussions (SRCs) and experience worse outcomes compared with male athletes. Although numerous studies on SRC have compared the outcomes of concussions in male and female athletes after injury, research pertaining to why female athletes have worse outcomes is limited.
To determine the factors that predispose female athletes to more severe concussions than their male counterparts.
Systematic review; Level or evidence, 3.
A systematic review was performed according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Meta-Analyses) guidelines. The MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsychINFO, and Cochrane Library databases were systematically searched on July 5 to July 20, 2018. Included were cohort, case-control, and cross-sectional studies that examined the effects of concussive and subconcussive head impacts in only female athletes of all ages, regardless of competition level. These studies were further supplemented with epidemiologic studies. Exclusion criteria included narrative reviews, single case reports, abstracts and letters to the editor, and studies related to chronic traumatic brain injury.
A total of 25 studies met the inclusion criteria. Female athletes appear to sustain more severe concussions than male athletes, due in part to a lower biomechanical threshold tolerance for head impacts. Additionally, concussions may alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, resulting in worse symptoms and amenorrhea. Although females are more likely to report concussions than males, underreporting still exists and may result in concussions going untreated.
This systematic review demonstrates that female athletes may be more susceptible to concussion, have prolonged symptoms after a concussion, and are more likely to report a concussion than their male counterparts. However, underreporting still exists among female athletes. Possible factors that put female athletes at a higher risk for concussions include biomechanical differences and hormonal differences. To effectively prevent, diagnose, and treat concussions in female athletes, more research is required to determine when and how such injuries are sustained. Despite sex-based differences in the clinical incidence, reporting behavior, and outcomes of SRCs, female athletes remain an understudied population, resulting in lack of sex-specific treatment guidelines for female athletes postinjury.