Concussion recovery may take longer in athletes with ADHD

Researchers discover that ADHD may have increased concussion symptoms and cause athletes to take longer to recover.

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A study presented at the American Academy of Neurology Sports Concussion Conference (26–28 July 2019, Indianapolis, IN, USA) has discovered that ADHD may be linked to increased symptoms and increased recovery time from concussion.

“These results may help as we try to determine why some athletes take longer to return to play and experience greater symptom burden,” commented co-author Robert Davis Moore (University of South Carolina, SC, USA). “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 pre-existing health conditions in anyone at risk for concussion.”

The team at the University of South Carolina used data from The Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium to evaluate 20 athletes with ADHD who were taking psychostimulant medication, 20 athletes with ADHD who were not taking medication and 80 control athletes who did not have ADHD. 

The researchers evaluated the athletes before the season, 1–2 days after concussion and when they were cleared to play again without restrictions. All the athletes experienced concussion during the season.

Both groups of athletes with ADHD displayed a greater decrease in verbal memory and a greater increase in symptom severity 1–2 days after concussion when compared with the control athletes. Athletes taking medication had larger post-injury decrements than the control group when tested on their thinking and learning skills, both at 1–2 days and when they returned to play.

On average athletes from the control group had symptoms for 4 days, compared with 10 days for those with ADHD who were not taking medication. Unexpectedly, the athletes taking psychostimulants took even longer to recover with them reporting symptoms for an average of 12 days.  

“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,” concluded Moore.

The results from this study clearly suggest that ADHD can increase concussion symptoms and recovery time, however, further studies are required to gain better understanding of how psychostimulants affect recovery time. 


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Kimberley Ndungu

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