New blood test can diagnose concussions

A new study is showing for the first time researchers were able to diagnose concussions in patients up to a week after they were injured, with a simple blood test.

That's important because the symptoms of a concussion can be subtle or delayed and can go undiagnosed, especially in children.

Right now, doctors often have to rely on patients to share their symptoms in order to diagnose a concussion and its severity.

It is estimated a quarter of a million kids a year end up in the hospital with concussions from playing sports and Kate Ratliff was one of them.

Kate was diving for a ball recently when she collided with another player. At first, she didn't seem to be seriously hurt.

Signs of a concussion are often delayed and if it takes a few days for symptoms to settle in, the only reliable way to diagnose a patient is with a CT scan.

"You really want to minimize the amount of CTs you do to your patients, particularly children, because they are a lot more sensitive to radiation and the bad side effects that come with that," said Dr. Linda Papa.

Papa and her team at Orlando Health developed a simple blood test that can not only detect a concussion, but a new study shows, the results are reliable up to a week after injury.

Scientists studied nearly 600 patients over three years, focusing on biomarkers in the blood known as GFAP.

"The markers that we are looking at are really specific to the brain and are not released through any other parts of the body which is what make them so unique," she said.

And the fact they're present in blood so long, could extend the window for diagnosis.

Left untreated, concussions can lead to long-term problems like dizziness, headaches and depression.

The problem is Papa says many patients, especially children, don't always articulate symptoms at the time of injury.
Now, doctors may be able to detect even subtle concussions - even if it's days later.

"With the tools we have now, they're really not sensitive enough to detect all of these injuries," Papa said. "So, we're hoping that the blood test will be that tool."

This blood test could take the guesswork out of making a diagnosis, whether a patient is seen immediately after an injury or days later.

The study appears in the journal JAMA neurology.