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Your Healthy Family: Researchers say blood test can detect traumatic brain injuries

Posted at 9:50 AM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 09:50:03-04

March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month. Traumatic brain injuries affect how the brain works; even a mild injury or a concussion can be serious. The traditional way of diagnosing a problem is a CT scan, but a new blood test could help detect brain injuries without having to expose a patient to radiation.

Researchers said the blood test will help doctors decide if a CT scan is needed for patients with mild traumatic brain injuries or a concussion.

"Ten percent of these patients actually have a significant injury on their CT scan, so it's important for us to find those ten percent and make sure we get a scan on them so they can be treated promptly,” Dr. Linda Papa, an Emergency Medicine Doctor and the study's lead author, said.

She said the blood test can help identify those patients. The study looked at the accuracy of the test, and was published in JAMA Network Open. Dr. Papa said by identifying two biomarkers, doctors can also reduce the need for CT scans for everyone who goes to the hospital with mild brain injuries -- reducing their radiation exposure.

"That blood test would help us make that decision, and say the blood test, the value, is very low. That means that patient likely does not have a significant brain injury and we can forego the cat scan,” Dr. Papa said.

She said that's especially important for children, because they're especially vulnerable to the effects of radiation. In the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2019, about 15 percent of all U.S. high school students reported a sports or recreation-related concussion in the year before.

"As children grow, you don't want to expose them to unnecessary ionizing radiation because they're growing. Their cells are changing," Dr. Papa said.

She said the biomarkers in the blood test have been studied for 20 years, but the process is now FDA approved and being used in clinical practice.