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A simple blood test can diagnose concussions

Left untreated or under-treated, concussions put patients at risk for further, often more serious injury.

Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (5) is brought down by Memphis defenders as Nkemdiche runs the ball on an offensive play in the first half of an NCAA college football game last year. He suffered a concussion on the play.
Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (5) is brought down by Memphis defenders as Nkemdiche runs the ball on an offensive play in the first half of an NCAA college football game last year. He suffered a concussion on the play.
Image: Mark Humphrey

DEALING WITH CONCUSSIONS can be difficult for sports teams, particularly ones which don’t have a doctor on hand.

However, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology says that concussions can be detected up to a week later with a simple blood test.

“We have so many diagnostic blood tests for different parts of the body, like the heart, liver and kidneys, but there’s never been a reliable blood test to identify trauma in the brain,” said Linda Papa, MD, MSC, an emergency medicine physician at Orlando Health and lead author of the study. “We think this particular test could change that.”

During the study researchers analysed nearly 600 patients and found that a certain biomarker was detectable in blood serum up to a week after the initial head injury. The biomarker, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), is unique to the brain and central nervous system and is released into the bloodstream following a head injury.

The blood test could also dramatically cut down on the need for computerised tomography (CT) scans. Currently, CT scans are the most precise way to diagnose brain lesions, but are expensive and are associated with radiation exposure.

Left untreated or under-treated, concussions put patients at risk for further, often more serious injury. Returning to class, work or sports competition too soon can lead to long-term bouts with dizziness, headaches and insomnia, and has even been linked to memory loss, trouble concentrating, depression and anxiety.

“This could ultimately change the way we diagnose concussions, not only in children, but in anyone who sustains a head injury,” said Papa.

Read: Doctors call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby

Read: This headband could help athletes avoid the worst damage from concussions

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