One of the most challenging aspects of representing survivors of traumatic brain injury ("TBI") is proving that the person actually suffered a TBI. This may sound surprising, but a recent peer reviewed study found that more than 50% of TBI victims were not properly diagnosed as having a TBI during their first visit to the emergency room following an incident in which they were injured. TBI diagnoses often come days, weeks, or months later, when persistent symptoms of a TBI manifest themselves and refuse to go away.
Many reasons for this failure to accurately diagnose TBI exist. CT scans often fail to reveal the existence of a TBI, especially a so-called "mild" TBI. And emergency room doctors and nurses are often more focused with finding, diagnosing, and treating open wounds, internal bleeding, and broken bones than they are with finding a "hidden injury," like a TBI. On top of all this, a person who has suffered a TBI is not the best historian when it comes to explaining "what happened." That is because they often have a period of amnesia surrounding the incident. Let's face it, diagnosing a TBI in an emergency room or on the sideline of a sporting event is not easy.
But, as recently reported in the Richmond Times Dispatch, the ability of an emergency room doctor or a sports team physician to quickly and reliably diagnose the existence of a TBI may be getting easier thanks to a blood test developed, in part, using tests performed on various groups of Virginia Tech athletes and coordinated by Virginia Tech's team physician, Dr. Gunnar Brolinson, the university's affiliated medical school, and university mechanical engineers. The blood test -- recently approved by the FDA -- is able to detect two brain proteins that leak into the blood within minutes of a concussion. Now companies are racing to turn the test into a simple pin prick.
The benefit of the test, according to the news article, is that it allows a doctor to determine whether an expensive CT Scan is necessary for a patient. Of course, as explained above, CT scans often do not find TBI even when it exists. It remains to be seen how this new test will play out, but perhaps it will lead to a higher, more accurate, diagnosis rate for survivors of TBI.