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Blood test accurately detects concussion in children

A protein released after neurons in the brain are damaged can be detected in blood and indicate the severity of a concussion.

By Stephen Feller
Blood test accurately detects concussion in children
Researchers hope that a faster, more precise test for concussions will prevent players from being sent back into games after sustaining a difficult to detect injury. Photo by Orlando Regional Medical Center

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Most concussions in children are diagnosed based on symptoms -- such as vomiting, balance issues, headaches and blurred vision -- but that does not give physicians an idea of the severity of the injury.

Using a blood test, however, levels of a protein can indicate whether a person has sustained a concussion and how severe it is, researchers found in a new study.

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The point of the research is to find a test that can be used on the sidelines of sporting events to evaluate athletes immediately, so that injured players are not sent back into the game.

"With our blood test, we were able to identify the presence of brain injuries 94 percent of the time -- this simple blood test was nearly as accurate as a state-of-the-art CT scan," Dr. Linda Papa, an emergency medicine physician at Orlando Regional Medical Center, said in a press release. "We were looking at different types of brain lesions detected by the CT scans, ranging from mild to serious injuries, and found that the biomarker we tested for actually corresponded to the injuries. Levels of the biomarker were lower in mild cases, and were much more elevated in severe case."

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Researchers enrolled 257 children for the study, 197 of whom had blunt head trauma and 60 were a control group. Of the 197 with head trauma, computed tomography scans were taken of 152 patients to detect for concussion.

The patients all were then given blood tests for glial fibrillary acidic protein, a protein found in glial cells, which surround neurons in the brain. The protein is released when brain cells have been injured. Because they pass the blood-brain barrier, they can be detected in a blood test.

The researchers found that patients with a concussion were correctly identified 94 percent of the time using the blood test

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Papa said the ultimate goal is to find a point-of-care test that can be used during games by coaches or trainers to better inform decision-making and put parents' minds at ease.

Previous research has indicated that a set of vision, balance and cognition tests correctly identifies patients at least 86 percent of the time, however a blood test would be far more exact.

"This could ultimately change the way we diagnose concussions, not only in children, but in anyone who sustains a head injury," Papa said. "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. We think this test could change that."

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The study is published in Academic Emergency Medicine.

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