Sports Brain Injuries: New Blood Test Developed

While commonly equated with sports, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of traumatic brain injuries has risen dramatically in the past decade. By 2010, for every 100,000 people in the United States, there were 716 emergency room visits, 92 hospitalizations and 17 deaths attributed to brain injuries. The CDC also reports that traumatic brain injury accounts for almost one-third of all injury-related deaths. On a daily basis, 138 people die as a result of TBI. Studies also indicate that in the United States, more than 40 percent of brain injuries occur secondary to falls. Individuals who survive the ordeal may face effects that range from temporary to a lifetime of disability.

Advancements in Diagnosis

In a recent Reuters report, Swedish researchers from the Lulea University of Technology claim that a blood test may help physicians in diagnosing traumatic brain injuries and prevent further damage from occurring. The blood test involves measuring a protein found in nerve cells called tau. By studying groups of athletes, scientists discovered that increased levels of this protein in the blood indicated the presence of a concussion. The protein becomes apparent in as little as one hour following a head injury. By performing the test at regular intervals, physicians might also determine the severity and longevity of the injury. While the study involved sports-related injuries and athletes, researchers claim the test would also aid emergency physicians with diagnosis regardless of the event that caused the injury.

TBI and Contact Sports

Boxing, football, and hockey are but a few of the contact sports where participants may suffer repeated head trauma and subsequent concussions. Not knowing for certain when a concussion heals and the length of time required for sufficient healing endangers athletes returning to the sport too early, which also poses a risk for experiencing further injury. Scientists now understand that repeated head injuries lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The condition may cause a number of symptoms that range from aggressive behavior or depression, to dementia, and impaired cognitive function.

Mild concussions often do not cause unconsciousness. However, individuals may experience a range of other symptoms that include dizziness, headaches, difficulty with concentration, or memory deficits.

While in many instances mild injuries resolve in a matter of days or weeks, more serious injuries may require months, or more than a year, before complete recovery occurs. By regularly performing the new blood tests following an injury, physicians might better monitor the healing process, determine which athletes might suffer long-term symptoms, and prevent injuries from reoccurring.