Roughly 250,000 kids each year land in the emergency room with concussions from playing sports.
Soccer player Kate Ratliff was one of them. Diving for a ball, she was kicked in the head. But at first, shedidn’t seem to be seriously hurt.
“We actually didn’t get her checked out right away because she didn’t have the symptoms right at the beginning, but a couple of hours later she started vomiting and had a headache,” her mother Misty said.
Kate’s not alone, since symptoms of a concussion may not show up for days. The only real way to diagnose a patient is with a CT scan, which comes with risks, Dr. Linda Papa said.
“You really want to minimize the amount of CT’s 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,” Papa said.
Papa leads a team at Orlando Regional Medical Center that has used a simple blood test to test for concussions. Most importantly, it can be used up to a week post-injury. They studied nearly 600 patients over three years, tracing a biomarker in the blood known as G-FAP.
“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,” Papa said.
Since the markers can be detected for up to a week, more patients can be diagnosed and treated. Untreated concussions can lead to long-term problems like dizziness, headaches, even depression.
The problem is many patients, especially young ones, don’t notice the symptoms after they’re injured. Now, doctors have a tool to detect even minor concussions.
“With the tools we have now, they’re really not sensitive enough to detect all of these injuries. So, we’re hoping that the blood test will be that tool,” Papa said.