About 200,000 people suffer sports-related concussions in the United States annually. Some of them recover quickly, while others experience persistent problems and even brain dysfunction.
A recent study by Penn Medicine, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, linked the severity of post-concussion symptoms to a brain-enriched protein called SNTF. Scientists confirmed previous evidence that patients with greater amounts of the protein are more likely to develop conditions like diffuse axonal injury and long-term cognitive dysfunction.
“We extended this biomarker research to the domain of professional sports to test its merit as an objective and rapid way to determine players’ severity of brain injury,” said lead author Robert Siman, PhD, research professor of neurosurgery at Penn. “This blood test may aid neurobiologically informed decisions on suitability for return to play following a sports-related concussion.”
The research involved 288 Swedish professional ice-hockey players, 28 of whom had sustained concussions during the 2012-13 season. The injury victims’ blood was analyzed daily to evaluate the degree to which their symptoms were subsiding. Eight of them no longer had symptoms a few days after their injuries. The other 20 players reported ongoing problems that kept them out of competition for at least six days.
The scientists discovered that those 20 study participants experienced increases in SNTF levels between one hour following their injuries and 144 hours later.
“These results show that SNTF has promise as a blood biomarker for sports-related concussion and beyond,” wrote Siman and senior author Douglas H. Smith, MD and director of Penn’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair.
Their report continued: “High blood levels of SNTF appear to identify acute brain damage that corresponds with persisting symptoms after concussion. These observations lend further support to the growing awareness that concussion is not trivial, since it can induce permanent brain damage in some individuals.”
Identifying concussion symptoms and initiating appropriate treatment is particularly crucial for children and teenagers who play sports. They usually take longer than adults to recover, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
The injury hampers the brain’s ability to function and process information. It can affect balance, coordination, memory and speech. Athletes who have had one concussion are prone to suffering more such injuries. Recurring incidents can cause long-term disability.
The damage results from a sudden, high-impact force to the skull, which violently shakes the brain. Either a blow to the head, or an impact to another part of the body that makes the head snap, can cause a concussion. The injuries happen for a variety of reasons, but people who play sports are among those at the greatest risk. Football, ice hockey and soccer have some of the highest concussion rates.
The symptoms of this brain injury can be hard to recognize immediately following an accident. In some cases, the signs do not appear until days later. A concussion can result in physical, cognitive and emotional issues. According to the AAOS, the most common symptoms are drowsiness, headache, loss of consciousness, memory loss, irritability, confusion, balance problems, dizziness, difficulty speaking and communicating, depression, nausea and vomiting, and altered sleep patterns.
If you or your child suffers a concussion, an immediate evaluation by medical professionals is critical. The nationally renowned sports medicine staff at Orthopedic Surgery San Diego can assess your symptoms and recommend the best treatments.