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Does Taking Birth Control Medication Affect Concussion Symptoms in Women?

Doctorpedia Editorial Team Doctorpedia Editorial Team October 13, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Getting a concussion is a perpetual worry for many who participate in sports. This injury happens when the brain strikes against the inside of the skull and causes bruising or other damage. Although most commonly associated with sports that include sudden impact, such as hockey or football, it can happen in swimming, biking, volleyball, and more–anywhere people are liable to take a spill or a blow to the head. 

 

Symptoms of concussion include loss of consciousness (even briefly), headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of memory, and confusion. As an internal injury, it is more important than usual to notice the symptoms, especially since the athlete may be too disoriented to notice that they have been injured. 

 

Recent findings indicate that the timing of a concussion in women can be important. Women who are taking birth control products or have a concussion at a particular point in their menstrual cycle may have reduced symptoms or a speedier recovery time than others. Could this be a new step in protecting athletes? 

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Concussion - Overview

Concussion - Overview

Birth Control Medication Equals Concussion Medication?

 

Preliminary studies have found that female concussion victims who were injured at a certain point in their menstrual cycle felt less stressed, a mark of faster recovery and less serious injury. At that point, the victim’s bodies were at peak production of the hormone progesterone, and some researchers believe there is a connection between the two. Is it possible that those who have suffered a concussion would find relief by taking progesterone to speed recovery? 

 

Differences in Concussion Based on Sex

 

Historically, it’s been noted that concussions affect men and women differently. A 2009 review study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that females may actually be at greater risk of concussion and have worse outcomes than males. This study also found that there are differences related to sex in the outcomes of traumatic brain injury (TBI), including concussion. However, this study noted that some of the differences may be because concussion is a self-reported injury, and, in general, females are more likely than males to self-report injuries such as TBIs.

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Birth Control - The Pill

Birth Control - The Pill

A more recent study, published in 2018 in Concussion, found that there were higher rates of concussions for females than for males in sex-comparable sports, but the reasons for this were not completely understood. This study also found that there were considerable differences in treatment-seeking behaviors and clinical outcomes based on sex. 

 

Further Research

 

Female brain injury, including TBIs from sports, violence, and military service has been a topic of research. However, one conclusion shared by several researchers is that there exists an unconscionable dearth of research into female athletes and injuries they suffer. The vast bulk of sports medicine has been centered on male athletes and injuries, leaving researchers in the field of women’s sports without the considerable body of prior research that male sports provides. This is definitely a topic where more research is needed, especially if the findings that hormones can help relieve symptoms and shorten recovery time apply to both sexes.

 

Conclusion

 

Manipulating hormones, particularly progesterone, may help to stimulate recovery from concussion and mitigate some of the symptoms. Further research on this topic, and on the topic of female sports injuries in general, is needed. Always seek qualified medical attention in case of a suspected concussion. 

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