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  • Posted March 11, 2024

Kids Battling Mental Health Issues Have Tougher Time Recovering From Concussion

Kids struggling with mental health problems have a tougher time recovering from a concussion, a new study finds.

These troubled kids tend to have more emotional symptoms after concussion and take longer to fully recover, results show.

In fact, the more mental health diagnoses a child had, the worse their emotional symptoms and the longer their recovery following a concussion, researchers reported recently in the journal Sports Health.

“While research has emphasized the negative mental health effects that persist after a concussion and how they can impact development and recovery, it's also very important to consider the burden these children and adolescents face prior to their injuries, and how their preexisting mental health status can impact recovery,” said senior researcher Dr. Matthew Grady, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Concussions are a common childhood injury, with about 2 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occurring each year in the United States, researchers said in background notes.

These mild traumatic brain injuries can cause a variety of problems with brain function, emotions, sleep and vision, researchers said. A child's physical health prior to concussion is known to influence their symptoms and recovery time.

To see whether that held true for mental health as well, researchers analyzed data on more than 3,100 kids who had suffered a concussion.

The research team checked the children's medical records to see if they'd been previously diagnosed with such issues as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, ADHD, bipolar disorder, learning disability or other psychiatric problems.

“We suspected that preexisting mental health diagnoses would increase the emotional burden youth faced after a concussion and wanted to assess how these diagnoses impacted other aspects of concussion recovery,” Grady said in a university news release.

Researchers discovered a dose-response relationship between mental health problems and problems recovering from concussion.

Those children with more diagnosed mental problems experienced more emotional symptoms like irritability, sadness and nervousness, results show.

Kids with mental health diagnoses were also more likely to have problems with vision and balance, and to take longer to return to exercise and recover fully from their concussion, researchers said.

Boys with prolonged recovery after concussion experienced more emotional turmoil than girls, results show -- an interesting finding, given that girls are more likely to have mental health diagnoses and experience more concussion symptoms overall than boys.

Doctors should make sure that boys are being screened and treated for mental health concerns as much as girls, so the potential effects of a future concussion are more fully understood.

“This study demonstrated how important it is for those treating young patients with concussions to understand their mental health challenges and take them into consideration when guiding their recovery,” said lead researcher Dr. Christina Master, a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at CHOP.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on youth concussion.

SOURCE: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, news release, March 7, 2024

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