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Blood Test Might Help Spot, Monitor Concussions

Study found levels of a protein linked with brain damage spiked right after injury, dropped with recovery

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For the study, Shahim's team looked for concussion in 288 players in the Swedish Hockey League. From September 2012 through January 2013, they identified 35 players with concussions, 28 of whom were included in the study.

These players had repeated blood tests hours and days after their injury, and after they returned to play.

The researchers found that players who suffered a concussion had higher blood levels of T-tau compared with levels measured before the hockey season began.

The highest levels of T-tau were seen in the first hour after a concussion and these levels declined over the next 12 hours, yet they were still elevated six days later.

Levels of T-tau were also associated with the number of days it took for concussion symptoms to clear and for players to return safely to competition, the researchers noted.

"This kind of test is really necessary," said Dr. Robert Duarte, a neurologist at North Shore-LIJ Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, N.Y.

The only treatment for concussion is rest, and knowing how long a patient has to wait before getting back to normal activity is a challenge, he explained.

"This test could be useful on a daily basis, helping patients get back to school, work and play," Duarte said.

Concussion, also called mild traumatic brain injury, is a growing problem among athletes at all levels -- professional, college, high school and even middle school.

Mild concussions generally don't cause loss of consciousness, but they can result in dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating, memory problems and headaches. Severe concussions can cause temporary loss of consciousness.

Most symptoms go away in days or weeks after the injury, but some patients can suffer symptoms for more than a year after injury.

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