Breakthrough blood test will improve concussion diagnoses, treatment

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Novant Health sports medicine expert supports newest research

The T-tau test has great potential to allow physicians to make better decisions about patient care and recovery

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 173,285 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, among children and adolescents every year. Soon, a blood test may be available to help doctors determine how severe a concussion is and how long recovery will take.

In March of this year, Swedish researchers reported that they have found a way to test blood for a protein called total tau (T-tau), which is released when the brain is injured. By watching the level of T-tau drop over time, it is possible to predict when symptoms will disappear and athletes can safely get back in the game. In August, the Department of Defense and Abbott, a global healthcare company, announced that they intend to develop a portable blood test that will allow physicians to confirm a concussion at the time of the injury.

Eric Warren, MD, of Novant Health Sports Medicine sees an average of six to eight new concussion patients every day during the fall and says that awareness of common signs and symptoms, including headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears and confusion, has improved in recent years. “Coaches are taking kids out sooner for suspected concussions, and that’s great, but sometimes in the heat of the game it’s hard even for athletes to recognize their symptoms,” he says. “Once a blood test is developed and available on the field, it will give coaches and athletic trainers the ability to make the right call every time.”

Treatment for concussions requires mental and cognitive rest, including time off of work or school, and recovery time varies based on the individual and the severity of the injury. Some concussion symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty falling asleep and depression, can develop days after the initial injury. In most cases, it takes up to three weeks for symptoms to fully resolve. On rare occasions, receiving another concussion before the brain has healed can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death, particularly among children and teens. “The T-tau test has great potential to allow physicians to make better decisions about patient care and recovery,” says Dr. Warren. “Numbers aren’t subjective in the way that symptoms can be. Just because a patient is starting to feel better doesn’t mean that they’re ready to get back to all of their usual activities.”

About Novant Health
Novant Health is a four-state integrated network of physician practices, outpatient centers and hospitals that deliver a seamless and convenient healthcare experience to our communities. The Novant Health network consists of more than 1,100 physicians and 24,000 employees who make healthcare remarkable at more than 450 locations including 14 medical centers, three hospitals, and hundreds of outpatient facilities and physician clinics. Headquartered in Winston-Salem, NC, Novant Health is committed to making healthcare remarkable for our patients and our communities serving over four million patients annually. In 2012, Novant Health provided more than $545 million in community benefit including charity care and services. Novant Health is one of the top 25 integrated health systems in the United States and was named a top 50 Best Places for Diverse & Women Managers to Work by Diversity MBA Magazine.

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Kristin Moser
Novant Health
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