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Teen athletes have individual emotional responses to concussions

University of Kentucky researchers who have studied the impact of concussions on teen athletes found that some teens demonstrated different emotional symptoms over time. The study was announced on August 13, 2014.

Researchers Lisa Koehl, a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky's Department of Psychology and Dan Han, director of the Multidisciplinary Concussion Program at the UK HealthCare, used data from a large database of traumatic brain injury patients at the University of Kentucky. Koehl and Dan Han studied post-concussion changes in the emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms of a subset of 37 teen athletes between the ages of 12 to 17.

Study findings:

  • 22 of the study participants showed post-concussive emotional symptoms, with 23 percent of this group showing sensitivity to light and 14 percent being sensitive to noise
  • The 15 teen athletes who did not have emotional symptoms did not demonstrate that they were sensitive to noise and 13 percent were sensitive to light
  • 55 percent of the participants who reported anxiety were more likely to experience attention problems than those who were not anxious
  • Teens with irritability and aggression were 35 percent more likely to report attention difficulties than teens who were not irritable

The researchers speculated that the two groups likely had comparable levels of severity of concussion because no differences were detected in factors such as:

  • Amnesia
  • Experiencing loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and/or headaches

"We discovered a bidirectional relationship between both emotional symptoms developing in conjunction with physical symptoms, and also emotional symptoms developing because of the physical symptoms," said Koehl. "This research gives us a better understanding of the interaction between physical and emotional symptoms in concussion and will allow us to explore ways to help adolescents recover in a more timely fashion."

"While these findings are preliminary and require a larger sample size to predict outcomes with more confidence, we are intrigued by the potential these data offer in terms of providing teens with a better treatment plan based on their unique cognitive, physical and emotional response to concussion," Han said. "Identifying factors that affect a teen's experience after concussion may help in planning for the appropriate treatment and in making decisions about when to return to play and what accommodations are needed at school during recovery.”