New Blood Test Available to Diagnose Concussions Immediately After Hit

Researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center recently developed a blood test that can diagnose sports-related concussion immediately following a major hit. The test detects a specific brain protein, called S100B, which is released after a concussion occurs. This protein could signal the first signs of brain changes due to a concussion. The test would be administered with a simple finger-prick and the blood could be analyzed from the sidelines. S100B testing is used in Europe to diagnose and assess intracranial bleeding and to determine whether or not a patient needs a CT scan. The new test stills needs FDA approval prior to being used in the U.S.

Currently, coaches and sideline medics evaluated symptoms such as confusion, headache, and dizziness to diagnose concussions, however, this is often incredibly inaccurate, and can have fatal consequences. Symptoms as elusive as confusion can be misjudged and players eager to get back into the game know they can downplay what they’re actually experiencing. A blood test could change this and potentially save lives.

There have been reports of several high school athletes who have passed away in recent years from hard hits to the head, most recently in Arizona. The Hopi High School student died at a local hospital after sustaining a hit from the other team, during a playoff game.

Levels of the brain protein S100B start to rise with intense exertion, but also after a major impact such as a blow to the head. So scientists investigated whether it would be possible to distinguish the two circumstances in hopes of finding a way to detect the first signs of traumatic brain injury.

They tested 46 athletes over the age of 18 for baseline levels of S100B during their preseason. After physical exertion, the researchers tested them again and found that their S100B levels rose slightly, by an average of 2 percent. During the season, 22 of the athletes had a clinically diagnosed concussion. Seventeen of the athletes with confirmed concussions had a S100B blood test done within three hours of the injury and their levels were 81 percent higher than baseline.  Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that a rise in S 100B of more than 45 percent is nearly equivalent to a concussion diagnosis and easily distinguishable from physical exertion.

In Europe, researchers are using the protein test to study which patients with brain injuries may be at risk for internal bleeding and should have a CT scan done. The group hopes to get the blood test approved for concussion diagnosis in the U.S. but acknowledge that more studies will be needed to confirm their results first. They suggest that more players from different sports should be tested and that scientists should investigate how the protein levels may vary among men and women. Still, the findings, published in the journal, PLOS ONE, suggest that it may be possible on the field of play, to identify which players who have experienced head traumas need closer monitoring and treatment for concussion, which could reduce their chances of more permanent and lasting damage.

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council found that high school football has, by far the highest rates of concussion. The average player is twice as likely to suffer a brain injury compared to college players. According to the report, about 250,000 teens were admitted to the E.R. for concussions and sports-related injuries in 2009, which is a significant leap from 2001, when only 150,000 teens suffered serious brain injury. Overall, about 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S. every year.

It is possible that the difference in the severity of brain injury between high school and college football players is liked due to the lack of available medical staff. College and pro football teams employ a team of neurologists, physical therapists and other health care specialists, who are available on the sidelines whenever an injury occurs. High schools have neither the means nor the funds to employ such a staff, and many cannot even afford proper athletic equipment.

The report also highlighted that between 10-20 percent of athletes who suffer concussions continue to experience symptoms months and even years after the hit. The researchers conclude that there is an intense need for more and improved data on this subject, particularly regarding the effectiveness of the latest helmet technology.

Researchers involved in the study urged parents, athletic directors, coaches and the public to pay close attention to what is known, so better-informed decisions can be made both on and off the field. The can include everything from learning better tackling techniques (a clinic for which recently took place at the Beas’ training facility), promoting safer play, and recognizing concussion symptoms.

Other players suggest that a player with a history of concussions is more at risks for future concussions, and the severity of injury is greater in players who previously endured two or more concussions. Some health care facilities, such as the Mayo Clinic, offer baseline concussion testing to young athletes. Testing sessions are available to any athlete over the age of ten who participates in a high-impact sport, such as football, hockey, lacrosse or weight lifting. It costs about $20 per test and takes place during specific days and times.

Not all concussions present the same way and are not always accompanied by loss of consciousness. For more information on clinical diagnosis and prevalence of concussions, go to the Mayo Clinic’s sports-related concussion site.

For more information contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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