In 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its approval of the first blood test to aid in the evaluation of concussions. The blood test is designed to help health care providers determine if a CT scan is needed to evaluate a patient suspected of having a concussion.
How the concussion blood test works
The blood test the FDA approved is called the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator. The test requires a small sample of blood from the person who has a head injury. The test is able to:
- Detect specific concussion-associated proteins in the blood. Two types of protein, UCH-L1 and GFAP, are released from the brain when a brain lesion (damaged brain tissue) is present. The Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator measures the levels of these proteins.
- Determine if medical imaging is necessary. If UCH-L1 and GFAP proteins are found in the blood, there is likely to be a brain lesion, and a CT scan may be appropriate. If these proteins aren’t present, medical imaging is probably not necessary.
The blood test doesn’t replace the current protocol used for diagnosing head injuries for concussion. The diagnostic process includes:
- Interviewing the patient and others about how the injury happened, where on the head the impact occurred, and how much force was involved.
- Examining eye movements, vision, balance, coordination, reflexes, and memory.
Concussions can be difficult to diagnose, and these assessments help health care providers determine a diagnosis as best they can.
Here are the main takeaways:
- The blood test doesn’t diagnose concussions. If the blood test comes back negative, that doesn’t mean a person is concussion-free; it only means a person doesn’t have a brain lesion. This blood test can’t determine whether someone suffered a concussion.
- CT scans may be reduced as a result. The result of the blood test can rule out the presence of brain lesions, eliminating the need for a CT scan for further evaluation. Medical imaging can cost a lot of money, and CT scans expose patients to large amounts of x-ray radiation.
- The current evaluation methods for concussions are still necessary. No matter the result of the blood test, a person suspected of having a concussion still needs to undergo physical and cognitive assessments to diagnose or rule out a concussion. Patients, athletic trainers, and physicians are advised to follow the current protocol even after a negative blood test. Missing a concussion diagnosis can be dangerous.
The blood test provides benefits to patients and physicians alike, but the current methods for evaluating a head injury for concussion shouldn’t be skipped or delayed.