Blood test may determine concussions in children


May 3, 2016

Topic: sports medicine

For years, medical researchers and sports medicine professionals have been trying to find an easy way to detect and diagnose concussions in children. However, it has been difficult to do, until now. A simple blood test may do the trick.

For years, medical researchers and sports medicine professionals have been trying to find an easy way to detect and diagnose concussions in children. However, it has been difficult to do until now. A simple blood test may do the trick.

Researchers at Orlando Health realized that performing a blood test on children may determine whether they experienced a traumatic brain injury or not. They believe the test is so accurate that it can detect a concussion 94 percent of the time. The findings were published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine.

"2.5 million hospital visits were associated with traumatic brain injuries."

A growing issue
In the past, concussions rarely happened to children. However, in recent years, the number of children experiencing these sports injuries has been on the rise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that in 2010, 2.5 million hospital visits were associated with traumatic brain injuries. Out of all age groups, children who were age 4 or younger experienced this type of injury the most, though slightly older age groups were not far behind. Though falls are most commonly linked to a traumatic brain injury, the next leading cause is accidental blunt trauma, which is when someone gets hit in the head with a blunt object. Most commonly, this is seen in sports. A child might accidentally be hit by a field hockey ball, a baseball or even another person's head, leading to a concussion.

However, concussions can be dangerous for children, especially if they play sports. It can be hard to tell whether a child has a concussion, mainly if he or she does not complain or does not exhibit any tell-tale signs of the injury other than complaining of head pain or a headache. Sometimes, if an injury happens during a game, a coach may not recognize an issue until later on, which can be extremely harmful to the child's health. Other times, a parent may not be sure what to do and may not seek help right away, or a doctor may dismiss the symptoms as something else.

Luckily, this new test may help make all the difference. The researchers noted that though their findings used information about children, they believe the blood test can be used on adults too.

"This could ultimately change the way we diagnose concussions, not only in children, but in anyone who sustains a head injury," said Orlando Health's lead researcher Linda Papa. "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."

This new test may help reinforce CT scans. This new test may help reinforce CT scans.

Comparing results
The study authors began by performing CT scans on 152 participants, all of whom were children. Papa and her team compared the results of the scans with Papa's blood test to see whether the scores lined up. The findings revealed that the test was just as accurate as the scan, and was able to detect symptoms of concussions that were not revealed on the scans.

The blood test measured a biomarker known as glial fibrillary acidic protein, or GFAP. This protein is found in cells that surround neurons in the brain. When a person gets a head injury, GFAP is released in the brain and gets through the blood brain barrier, reaching the regular bloodstream, which is why it can be measured. The researchers realized that levels of the protein were very accurate with the type of concussion a child had. The protein count was low in mild concussions and high in severe concussions.

The researchers believe this might be a more affordable way to detect concussions, as CT scans can be extremely expensive for patients. The scans also give off radiation exposure, which can be dangerous for a child. The study authors plan to do more studies using the test to prove its effectiveness, but they hope it will be ready for use soon.


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