If you are the parent of a child who is active in any way, chances are you're worried about concussions. You may be even more concerned with the latest studies showing how damaging it can be for kids to return to sports and other activities before a concussion has fully healed. Fortunately, there is good news in the form of a just-released study that reveals how a simple blood test can be used to diagnose a concussion up to one week after an injury has occurred.
The blood test was developed by a team of researchers at Orlando Health led by emergency medical medicine physician Dr. Linda Papa. Papa was looking for a way to definitively diagnose a concussion, and do it simply and quickly.
"Over the last 14 years, we've gradually developed this test to become more and more sensitive, to the point that now, we can detect it in serum," Papa explained. "Just a simple blood test will tell us if some of these proteins, that are released from the brain after an injury, are detected in the blood."
The new test is exciting on two fronts. First there is its simplicity. Prior to the development of this blood test, the only reliable way to diagnose a concussion was via a CT scan. However, doctors try to limit the number of CT scans they do on young patients because of the radiation involved. Without a CT scan doctors have to rely on a patient's description of her symptoms, and those can be fuzzy at best, especially after an injury.
Now, with a prick of a finger — in a test similar to the one used to detect diabetes — doctors will be able test for a biomarker called glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a protein that is unique to the brain and central nervous system and is released into the bloodstream following a head injury.
Also exciting, the test can detect the GFAP for up to one week after the injury. This is especially important for concussions because symptoms don't always appear right away, so many patients — children in particular — don't get checked for several days after the trauma has occurred.
With kids and sports injuries in mind, we asked Papa if this test could work on children of all ages. "GFAP has been studied in both children and adults and appears to work well at all ages," Papa said. She added that the test can detect GFAP within 6 hours of injury.
That's good news for active kids. And great news for parents who now have one less thing to worry about.