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New blood test spots brain damage from hockey concussions

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Researchers in Sweden have developed a new blood test that could change the way concussions are diagnosed and treated.

In a recent study, published March 13 in the journal JAMA Neurology, researchers followed 288 players in the Swedish Hockey League through last year's season.

When a player suffered a concussion, researchers took their blood.

They then compared those samples with blood taken from players before the start of the hockey season.

The comparison revealed a protein called T-tau that is released into the blood when the brain is injured was at elevated levels in the blood of players with concussion.

This finding could help doctors better and more quickly treat injured players in the future.

"The level of T-tau within the first hour after concussion correlates with the number of days you have symptoms. We can use this biomarker to both diagnose concussion and to monitor the course of concussion until the patient is free of symptoms," said lead researcher Dr. Pashtun Shahim, from the department of neurochemistry at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Molndal.

Researchers say the blood test could make it possible to predict when symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating, memory problems and headaches will disappear.

And when it's safe for a player to return to the game.

It can be difficult to diagnose the severity of concussion. Returning to play too soon can be dangerous, MPR News reports.

"In contact sports like ice hockey, boxing and American football, concussions are a growing international problem," says Brain researcher Henrik Zetterberg.

"In ice hockey and other contact sports, repeated concussions are common, where the brain has not finished healing after the first blow. This kind of injury is particularly dangerous, but there have not been any methods for monitoring how a concussion in an athlete heals," says Zetterberg.

The study was conducted in cooperation with researchers at the Luleå University of Technology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital and the US biotech firm Quanterix Corporation.

The Swedish study involved just several dozen hockey players. Researchers say more work needs to be done to replicate the findings in a larger trial.

Still, physicians who treat concussion patients are reacting positively to the initial results, HealthDay News reports 

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

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

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