Blood Test May Diagnose Traumatic Brain Injuries

by Dana Paris | November 24th, 2015

Results of a simple blood test given in the emergency department may help doctors determine the severity of traumatic brain injuries and predict how well patients will recover.

According to Frederick Korley, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, head trauma causes a drop in levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In his recent study, Dr. Korley reveals an important correlation: lower BDNF levels in the blood indicate a more severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Patients with the lowest BDNF levels were less likely to make a full recovery within six months of the injury.

Each year, more than one million Americans suffer sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents, or falls. Any blow to the head that causes loss of consciousness, even briefly, could result in a TBI. Common TBIs include concussions, contusions (bruising on the brain), hemorrhage (severe bleeding in the brain) and skull fractures.

The effects of a TBI can vary widely from person to person. For instance, some patients with severe injuries may not develop symptoms right away, meaning the hours or days following a TBI may be full of uncertainty. Most TBI patients are monitored closely using the Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) to track signs of worsening symptoms and impending coma. Doctors may also order a CT scan to detect bleeding in the brain.

While the GCS and CT scans are integral parts of TBI diagnosis, they can only tell doctors so much. Dr. Korley’s research suggests that obtaining BDNF levels within 24 hours of a head injury may help fill in the gaps by identifying patients who need more intensive treatment right away.

While further research is needed to fully understand BDNF in relation to brain injuries, blood tests may help some patients receive the timely treatment they need. For more information, check out this article about BDNF and TBIs.