ADHD in athletes may be linked to longer recovery time from concussions

For college athletes, having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be linked to increased symptoms, and longer recovery time from concussions, according to a preliminary study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology Sports Concussion Conference in Indianapolis July 26-28. ADHD is a brain disorder that affects attention and behavior.

These results may help as we try to determine why some athletes take longer to return-to-play and experience greater symptom burden. Athletes with ADHD should be monitored with this in mind, as they may be more susceptible to prolonged recovery, and in general it's important to be aware of and address preexisting health conditions in anyone at risk for concussion."

Co-author R. Davis Moore, University of South Carolina in Columbia

The study used data from the NCAA-Department of Defense Grand Alliance: Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education (CARE) Consortium to evaluate 20 athletes with ADHD who were taking psychostimulant medications for ADHD, 20 athletes with ADHD who were not taking those medications, and 80 athletes who did not have ADHD. All of the athletes experienced concussions during their seasons.

The athletes were evaluated before the season started, within one-to-two days after the concussion and again when they were cleared to play with no restrictions.

The athletes with ADHD who were taking medication had symptoms for an average of 12 days, compared to 10 days for those with ADHD who were not taking medication and four days for the control group. All athletes with ADHD exhibited greater decreases in verbal memory and greater increases in symptom severity one-to-two days after concussion compared to the control athletes.

The athletes who were not taking the stimulant medications had larger post-injury decrements than the control group on tests of how efficiently their thinking and learning skills were working, both at one-to-two days after concussion and when they were cleared to return-to-play.

The athletes who were taking medication had larger changes (responded more slowly) than the control group on tests of visual motor speed at one-to-two days after concussion and when they were cleared to return-to-play.

"Interestingly, the athletes who were taking stimulant medications did not appear to have any differences in recovery time or symptom burden than athletes who were not taking medication. We had hypothesized that these medications could possibly lessen the symptoms after a concussion or speed recovery, but we did not find that to be the case. Although, these results are intriguing, they will need to be replicated with larger studies," said Moore.

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