Blood Test Finds Concussion in Kids

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One of the hardest parts of treating mild traumatic brain injury is detecting it in the first place. Especially among children, who don’t know to report symptoms, a concussion can go undetected far too long. A new blood test will help doctors detect concussion in kids, even before symptoms are reported.

Early detection of traumatic brain injury is crucial to prevent secondary injury caused by ongoing pressure on the brain. But all too often, concussions go undetected in children simply because the symptoms go unnoticed, or unreported.

Concussion symptoms don’t always show up right away. In the days after an accident, doctors watch for signs that there is swelling or pressure in the brain. After an auto accident, fall, or sports injury, kids may not think to tell their doctors or parents about dizziness, nausea, or headaches.

Until now, there was no direct way to detect whether a concussion had occurred, short of brain imagery. Costly CT scans are often used to visualize fluid around the brain. But this comes with a risk of radiation exposure. A new blood test discovered by Dr Linda Papa, an emergency medicine physician at Orlando Health, may change that.

The test detects a specific biomarker, called glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), that the brain gives off after a blow to the head. The protein is stored in the glial cells that protect the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. When an injury occurs, GFAP is released into the patient’s blood. The biomarker stays in the bloodstream for up to 7 days, giving doctors a chance to detect concussion even if the patient doesn’t come in right away. In a study published in the scientific journal Neurology, Dr. Papa said:

“This could provide doctors with an important tool for simply and accurately diagnosing those patients, particularly children, and making sure they are treated properly. . . .  This test could take the guesswork out of making a diagnosis by allowing doctors to simply look for a specific biomarker in the blood.”

In the study, the blood test detected 97% of brain injuries among nearly 600 patients tested over the course of 3 years. GFAP levels also indicated when lifesaving neurosurgery was needed.

The blood test is a much simpler way for pediatricians and ER doctors to detect concussion in children. By detecting brain injury early, these doctors will be able to intervene and avoid developmental delays and other serious brain injuries, helping patents heal more quickly, and completely after an accident.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He will be a featured speaker on the in the Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s upcoming No-Fault Summit. If you or someone you know has suffered a brain injury accident, contact Christensen Law today to schedule a consultation.