Anyone that has suffered a concussion knows the long-lasting and varied symptoms. We are bombarded daily with information on the dangers of repeated head trauma and concussions to athletes and regular people, alike.
Not only is public awareness growing, but so is the research into the traumatic head injury and its lasting impact long after the immediate symptoms have subsided.
CTE has entered our lexicon thanks to the work of Bennet Omalu – the movie Concussion was based on his life’s work studying the traumatic brain injury.
Today, the health community is a step closer to having a simple blood test to diagnosing a concussion. The biggest challenge to the head injury is getting a diagnosis. It’s often shrugged off by the patient as nothing.
Or, you rush to the doctor who can only offer up a CT scan to rule out brain bleeds or lesions, and the most basic of treatments if you don’t present with anything major.
The problem? Symptoms can take hours, days and even weeks to fully manifest themselves.
Concussion Blood Test Research
Published in JAMA Neurology, researchers studied 600 patients who were admitted to a trauma center from March 2010 to March 2014. Each suffered a head injury involving a loss of consciousness, amnesia or disorientation.
After admitted, researchers drew blood at regular intervals to study the biomarker glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), and how it the levels changed over time. GFAP has been shown in previous research to play a pivotal role in repairing our bodies.
The biomarker is released into the bloodstream after a person suffers a head injury.
What the study found was the marker “performed consistently” in helping detect mild to moderate traumatic brain injury and intracranial lesions. GFAP levels peaked at 20 hours after the initial injury and slowly declined over 72 hours. The marker was still detectable at the one week mark.
That’s important because it allows the ER to possibly diagnose a concussion. Also, if you stroll into your primary doc a few days later, the test will hopefully be available to figure out the cause of your symptoms – be it headaches, dizziness, etc.
For me? It’s a personal story. If you’ve been in Alabama, you’ve probably heard of Little River Canyon National Park. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run over the rocks with reckless abandon.
My moderate concussion? A simple slip and whiplash back into the rocks right as I was stepping into the river. My symptoms ranged from the initial loss of consciousness to vomiting episodes two weeks later (my birthday no less – I’m that lucky). Probably didn’t help it was a mile-long hike out of the park.
All total, my concussion took six months and four doctor visits to resolve. Everything from headaches, tinnitus, nausea, dizziness and more headaches greeted me.
A blood test to find out the same day? It’s still in the research phase, but lead author Linda Papa, an emergency medicine physician at Orlando Health, summed it up best:
“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 particular test could change that.”