Mental Health

Blood Test Can Detect Sports-Related Brain Injuries

Cheri Cheng
March 14, 2014 02:39 PM EDT

In recent studies, researchers have examined the use of blood tests in detecting illnesses, such as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. According to a new study from Sweden, researchers have created a new blood test that could detect sports-related brain injuries. These tests could help improve treatments for athletes in contact sports, such as football, rugby and ice hockey.

"In ice hockey and other contact sports, repeated concussions are common, where the brain has not finished healing after the first blow," lead investigator Henrik Zetterberg of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, said according to Reuters Health. "This kind of injury is particularly dangerous, but there have not been any methods for monitoring how a concussion in an athlete heals."

For this study, Zetterberg and his team analyzed 288 ice hockey players from the Swedish Hockey League. From September 13, 2012 to January 21, 2013, 35 athletes had suffered from a concussion. Three of them had a concussion that rendered them unconscious. The researchers collected blood samples from 28 athletes who had a concussion. The samples were taken one hour after the incident and then twice more at 35 hours and 144 hours after the concussion.

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The researchers compared the blood samples before and after concussions. They found that levels of total-tau (T-tau), which is a nerve cell protein, were higher in the blood samples drawn right after the concussion. The researchers concluded that elevated tau levels could be an indicator of a concussion. By using this marker, doctors can be able to estimate the severity of the concussion and treat the patient appropriately. The test could also potentially be used to predict how long symptoms will stay.

"We have a biomarker [indicator] that is elevated in the blood of players with a concussion," said researcher Dr. Pashtun Shahim, from the department of neurochemistry at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Molndal reported by WebMD. "The level of T-tau within the first hour after concussion correlates with the number of days you have symptoms. We can use this biomarker to both diagnose concussion and to monitor the course of concussion until the patient is free of symptoms."

The study was published in the journal, JAMA Neurology.

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