CHEO-led research: boys get more concussions but symptoms last longer in girls
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario have discovered that while more boys than girls suffer from concussions, the symptoms last longer in girls.
That finding was the result of a new study on 3-thousand children in Canada, the largest of its kind in the world. For many hospitals, including CHEO, the research is significant. CHEO sees almost three children a day with symptoms of a concussion and most parents have the same question: how long their child is going to suffer. Until now, doctors couldn't answer that question.
It is hits into the boards that can sideline a hockey player with a concussion.
That's what happened to 19-year-old Jenna Pietrantonio three years ago, playing competitive hockey.
“Their defence was there like a brick wall,” Jenna recalls, “and she just lined me up and hit me and we collided and I fell on the ice.”
Jenna says knew almost immediately that she had a concussion. It was her second one. Three years later, she still has symptoms.
"The physical symptoms are ringing in my ears, headaches, sensitivity to light and noise.”
Emotional symptoms, too, she says, like a sudden euphoria or depression.
Recently, Jenna became one of 3-thousand Canadian kids to take part in the largest study of its kind on concussions aimed at developing a validated clinical prediction score to figure out who is most at risk for persistent symptoms. The findings surprised even the lead author.
“Although boys had more concussions, 62% of patients were boys,” says Dr. Roger Zemek, the lead author and an emergency physician at CHEO, “girls have two times the risk of having persistent symptoms.”
Dr. Zemek says they aren’t entirely sure why but believe that it may have to do with the difference in neck size or hormones. Dr. Zemek says the 5P study: predicting and preventing post-concussive problems in pediatrics, involving CHEO and nin pediatric emergency departments across Canada, enrolled 3-thousand children aged 5 to 18 years and evaluated within the first 48-hours after a head injury. Experts then developed a PPCS risk score that, when applied within the first 48 hours of a head injury, proved to be better at predicting future concussion problems. The score incorporates nine variables including age, gender, history of migraines, whether they were fatigued or had headaches. Participants also did a balance test. The hope is that this scoring system will help health providers determine who is a highest risk for persistent symptoms and perhaps help drive research forward.
“There’s been no research to date on treatments,” says Dr. Zemek, “because we couldn't target which kids needed treatment.”
The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, caught the eye of Canada's Health Minister who popped into CHEO to congratulate Dr. Zemek on his research.
“My 23-year-old son is a rugby player,” says Dr. Jane Philpott, Canada’s Health Minister and a family doctor, “and I have to say I’m a nervous rugby mom. He's had minor concussions that he recovered from quickly. I can also understand this matter from the health perspective.”
Jenna's mom, too, is interested and hopes the results of this study will make a difference in her daughter's life.
“I don't know if the symptoms will ever disappear,” says Lisa Pietrantonio, “but I hope she will overcome them and be great, normal person she is.”
Jenna has been impacted by her concussions in many ways, including one positive way. She is now studying cognitive science at Carleton University and hopes to work one day with kids suffering from concussions. She says she can relate.