Blood tests have long been a valuable medical tool. A simple pinprick and you can find out if you are deficient in iron, have too much cholesterol, or signs of an infection. But imagine if a blood sample could also tell you if you’ve suffered a concussion?
Incredibly, a new test soon to be available in Australia, can do just that.
And while this is potentially very good news for those who play contact sports, it could also be a game-changer for older adults. In the US, roughly 40 per cent of all concussions are caused by slips and falls, and the figure is likely to be similar in Australia.
With our population ageing, falls are on the increase and managing concussion episodes is something health experts are looking at more closely. The arrival of a concussion blood test – developed by Abbott in the US – is expected to play an important role in managing that.
Read: Falls can be life-changing. Here’s how to prevent them
One big advantage of the new test is its simplicity. It can determine whether a head injury has caused brain damage and internal bleeding by checking for the presence of two types of brain proteins.
Dr Beth McQuiston, neurologist and medical director of diagnostics at Abbott, says: “Basically, you shouldn’t be seeing any brain proteins in your blood … but with this test you can very quickly find out if the proteins are elevated or if they’re not.”
Currently, testing for traumatic brain injuries (TBI), including concussions, entails the use of a CT scan, patient questionnaire and/or a neurological exam, which, in some cases, are not empirical on their own.
Read: What is – and what isn’t – ‘brain fog’?
However, the blood test will reduce the need for such scans. A negative result on this test can be used to rule out the need for a head CT scan. For those who test positive, the test result complements CT scans to help clinicians evaluate whether someone has a TBI.
Abbott believes this could reduce the number of unnecessary CT scans by up to 40 per cent, which would provide an overstretched health system with some much-needed relief.
Another huge upside to the concussion blood test is its efficiency. Based on US department of defence research, it can give a definitive diagnosis within 18 minutes. Not only will that help expedite any required treatment, but it will also provide earlier relief to those who test negative – and their loved ones.
Read: Study shows COVID is linked to Alzheimer’s-like brain changes
The test has proven to be incredibly accurate. Dr McQuiston says it can detect brain proteins down to the picogram level. That’s 1000 times smaller in weight than a nanogram, which is, in turn a million times smaller as a milligram.
Australia’s regulatory body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has approved the test, with an expected roll out across hospital emergency departments this year. As reported by YourLifeChoices last month, research indicates that there is one fall-related visit to an emergency department by an older Australian every 2.5 minutes.
While reducing that number would be an ideal outcome, a quick diagnosis of concussion or otherwise will provide great benefits to patient and clinicians alike. The new blood test will help achieve those benefits.
Have you or a loved one had to visit an emergency room to test for a concussion? What was your experience? Do you think this new test will improve things? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?