Women who suffer head injuries within the two weeks before their period have a slower recovery time and poorer health up to one month after their injury, according to a new study, prompting researchers to suggest that women who participate in sports that put them at risk for head injuries may benefit from taking birth control pills.
Previous studies have suggested that women who experience head trauma have greater cognitive decline, slower reaction time, more headaches, longer periods of depression, longer hospital stays and longer delays before returning to work, compared to men who suffer head injuries. The outcomes are even stronger in women of childbearing age.
Researchers have not been able to pinpoint the reason for this, but Jeffrey J. Bazarian of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry believes that female sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone may play a role. His reasoning is that stressful events such as head injuries can cause the pituitary gland in the brain to turn off, which can cause hormones to quickly drop.
To investigate this theory, researchers recruited 144 women between the ages of 18 and 60 who sought treatment in emergency rooms within four hours of a head injury. Blood was drawn from all participants within six hours of injury, which allowed researchers to determine based on progesterone levels what phase they were in of their menstrual cycle. The women were then divided into three groups based on hormone levels, with 37 women in a premenstrual/progesterone group, 72 in a postmenstrual/low progesterone group, and 35 in a group of women who reported using birth control. The women were then monitored for one month.
Researchers noted that women in the premenstrual/high progesterone group were twice as likely to have worse scores on standardized tests that measure recovery from concussion as well as low health rating scores than women in the low progesterone group.
Researchers say this may be because when head trauma occurs in women who are premenstrual with high levels of progesterone, the hormone levels to suddenly drop, which makes women feel worse and symptoms linger longer. There is no change in hormones caused by head trauma in postmenstrual women whose hormone levels are already low, thus there is less change in a way a woman feels.
Researchers said there was no real difference in women in the low progesterone group and those taking birth control pills. Because of this and other health benefits – such as helping to protect bones – researchers say birth control pills may be beneficial for athletic women in particular.
Source: Medical News