In February, the US Food and Drug Administration approved marketing of the first-ever blood test to evaluate mild traumatic brain injury in adults. This could have beneficial effects for physicians, athletes, patients and even schools.
What is a TBI?
A TBI, or traumatic brain injury, usually results from a violent blow to the head. Mild TBIs will lead to concussions with temporary side effects, but serious injuries can result in bleeding and torn tissue within the brain.
The FDA writes, “According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 there were approximately 2.8 million TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. Of these cases, TBI contributed to the deaths of nearly 50,000 people.”
TBI is prominent in professional athletes as well as within school sports.
The New Blood Test
To better predict if a patient has obtained a TBI, the blood test measures three protein levels. Researchers discovered that one particular protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) could predict the severity of a TBI case if it was measured within a day of the initial blow.
However, some experts warn that the test is not fully accurate. “Calling this blood test a concussion blood test is a misnomer,” says John Leddy, a prestigious professor, medical director and physician. “This blood test does not provide a way to confirm or rule out a concussion.”
Because the protein levels being measured are so variable, inaccurate results can be expected. Instead of looking at it as only a “concussion test,” Leddy states, it is simply a means to help physicians decide if a CT scan is necessary.
Previous Methods of Detection
Prior to this method, doctors were forced to rely on the Glasgow Coma Scale, a 15-point test where doctors would ask patients to follow specific directions. The recorded score would indicate if a severe injury had occurred.
These tests were promptly followed up with CT scans, which expose patients to high levels of radiation.
Advantages of the New Tactic
The new blood test will give physicians a better understanding of who does or does not require a CT scan. This means fewer patients will have to pay for the expensive test and that they will not be subjected to radiation unless absolutely necessary.
Anyone in sports will especially benefit from this. Just last month, a former high school student sued his past school for a brain injury. He won $5.8 million in compensation. Therefore, the advantages extend to educational institutions, students, athletes, coaches and many more.
The test isn’t perfect, but it will help doctors assess their patients and decide on a treatment plan. When used in conjunction with the Glasgow Coma Scale, it can greatly minimize the risk of hidden TBIs.
And that is certainly a good thing.
“Left untreated, traumatic brain injuries can create long-term complications,” states a personal injury lawyer from Bressman Law. “In some instances, they may even lead to death.”