During football season talk surrounding concussions becomes even more relevant, and now doctors believe they may be on the verge of the next big advance when treating concussions. One of the biggest problems doctors have is that concussion testing is understood to be primarily subjective at the moment. That is why fans see doctors tirelessly looking football players over before they return them to action or before they put them on the bench. It can take time. Now doctors believe that concussions could be diagnosed using nothing more than a simple blood test.
For those who watched the New Orleans Saints defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night the immediate benefit of this test is apparent. For much of the second half New Orleans team doctors were seen studying corner back Keenan Lewis, trying to decide whether he had suffered a concussion or not. Ultimately, and rightly so, they chose the safe route and took Lewis’s helmet away from him.
Now doctors could be able to diagnose a concussion emphatically with a simple blood test.
“Right now when we identify a concussion it is purely subjective. We look at symptoms. Do they have headaches? Do they have dizziness? There is no objective information. Having something objective is the holy grail of concussion,” says Neurologist Dr. Javier Cardenas.
Dr. Cardenas is an expert in injuries to the brain; he believes that getting players to admit that they have suffered a concussion is one of the largest problems facing treatment. Tell that to the doctors attending to Keenan Lewis on Saturday night, surely they would understand.
The research that leads doctors to believe a blood test could diagnose a concussion focuses on the material inside brain cells called micro RNA. When an athlete, or a normal person, is healthy tiny circles holding this material break off from the brain and enter the blood stream through spinal fluid. When someone suffers a concussion researchers believe a change will take place in the microRNA and that those changes could be observed by simply drawing blood and analyzing the sample.
A member of the team researching this possibility said that it could be possible to observe players’ biomarkers and conclude whether they were suffering from a concussion or if they still had lingering effects, all from looking at their blood. This information could be very valuable in determining when a player can go back into the game and be exposed to more dangerous contact.
This piece of information is part of a pair of interesting breakthroughs involving concussions. The other recent breakthrough involves adolescents, video games and homework. This study asserts that children, who play video games, read,or engage in other mental activities everyday could take longer to recover from concussions then those who do not.
The NFL will continue to keep a close monitor on the safety of its players, but science may have given doctors another tool to help them persuade athletes that they need to sit out of the action. If concussions can be diagnosed by simple blood tests there may be an end to the argument at least.
By Nick Manai