Confusion is one symptom of a concussion. But confusion may also characterize decisions about how soon to let an athlete play after taking a hit to the head. Sizing up symptoms such as dizziness and nausea is subjective, after all. Now a study suggests that a blood test could objectively determine whether or not the damage is bad enough to put a player on the bench. The work is in the Journal of Neurotrauma. [Robert Siman et al, Serum SNTF Increases in Concussed Professional Ice Hockey Players and Relates to the Severity of Post Concussion Symptoms]
A strong blow to the head causes chemical changes within nerve cells that damage their structural proteins. Among the debris is a protein fragment called SNTF—which in more severe cases, spills into the bloodstream.
The new study followed 20 professional hockey players who got concussions with symptoms that lasted six days or more. And blood levels of SNTF were much higher one hour to six days later than were levels of the protein fragment in eight other athletes who had gotten concussions that cleared up within five days. Levels were also low in 45 non-concussed players tested during the preseason.
A blood test for SNTF might thus forecast recovery time from a head injury. Combined with other neurological tests, levels of this molecule could help doctors tell athletes when it’s safe to suit up again.