Women athletes are twice as likely as men to get concussed—and the effects are more severe. Compelling new research suggests this is a distinct possibility, with a growing recognition that male and female brains may respond to injuries very differently. Female athletes also seem to require more time for those symptoms to disappear. One study of 266 adolescents—including soccer and American football players, wrestlers and skiers—found that, on average, females took 76 days to recover, while males took 50 days.
Some studies have also used more objective measures of cognitive function, with one finding females were about 1.7 times as likely as males to show signs of cognitive impairment a few days after experiencing the concussion. This includes a much larger decline in reaction times. Concussed female athletes also tend to show greater deficits in visual memory. Female athletes also seem to perform worse than males on a test of the vestibular-ocular reflex—which allows our eyes to fix on a target as our body moves.
Some researchers have proposed that it may be due to the fact that female necks tend to be slimmer and less muscular than male ones. Female brains are thought to have slightly faster metabolisms than male ones, with greater blood flow to the head: essentially, they are slightly hungrier. And if a head injury momentarily disrupts that supply of glucose and oxygen, it could cause greater damage. The third possibility lies in female sex hormones—with some striking evidence that the risk of concussion changes with varying hormone levels during the menstrual cycle.