A new way to diagnose concussions?

A new way to diagnose concussions?

Fall means playing sports for many kids and adolescents. Although recreational activities provide great physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 170,000 kids and teens are treated in emergency rooms annually for recreation and sports-related head injuries, including concussions. Could diagnosing those head injuries be getting easier?

A recent study analyzed a new blood test that could detect if a patient has suffered a traumatic brain injury or concussion. The test looks for two proteins that are released from the brain and into the blood stream within four hours of an injury. If the blood test shows high levels of both proteins, the patient likely has a concussion. These findings could help children and adults be quickly diagnosed and prevent long-term damage to the brain.

“A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain essentially gets rattled around inside the skull,” says Dr. Thomas Murphy, a sports medicine physician at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “It is characterized by a trauma followed by a highly varied constellation of symptoms that can include the following:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Alterations in mood

According to Dr. Murphy, blood tests have been used in the past to determine if a patient with head trauma needed to have a CT scan of their head to evaluate for bleeding in the brain. This study, however, identified patients with no symptoms but showed elevations in particular biomarkers.

“I would join the study authors in identifying that as a very interesting finding worthy of further exploration,” says Murphy. “I don’t see a clear role for this blood testing currently, but this area of study could cause changes in our field in the next 10 to 15 years.”

“If you suspect you have had a concussion, you should seek care from a health care provider familiar with concussion diagnosis and management, such as a physician, PA, nurse practitioner or athletic trainer,” advises Murphy. “Avoid returning to vigorous physical activity after a concussion until you are evaluated, and be very careful to avoid a second head trauma while still suffering the effects of a concussion.”

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