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Blood test detects concussions

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Researchers report a possible breakthrough in diagnosing concussions. They found a simple blood test can detect evidence of concussion.

A concussion can happen in sports, a car crash or a fall. Right now, there's no definitive way to diagnose it.

"Concussion is a very challenging diagnosis in that we don't have a blood test, we don't have a radiology test like an MRI, a CT scan," said Dr. Greg Canty, a sports medicine specialist with Children's Mercy Hospital.

And the doctor said the symptoms can mimic other conditions such as migraines or other headaches.

Now, promising research suggests a simple blood test can detect concussions. The test looks for two proteins or biomarkers that are present in brain cells. When the head is injured, those proteins get into the bloodstream.

"The markers we are looking at are really specific to the brain and not released from any other part of the body which is what it makes them so unique," said Dr. Linda Papa, a researcher with Orlando Health.

She and other researchers looked at 600 patients, some who had head injuries and some who had other injuries. They found one protein was in the blood in higher levels for two days in patients who'd had head injuries. The other protein was there up to a week. Dr. Papa said that's important since many concussion patients wait to go to the doctor until they've had symptoms for a while.

"With the tools we have now, they are not sensitive to detect all of these injuries. We're hoping the blood test will be that tool," she said.

Dr. Canty cautions that research has been going on for many years, and more study is needed.

"I hope that science is taking us there. It can't take us there quick enough, in my opinion," he said.

Researchers say the test is at least a few years away from widespread use. The study is published in JAMA Neurology.