Maggie Fox and Ali Galante and Felix Gussone, MD and Parminder Deo
Feb 15th 2018 9:34AM
The Food and Drug Administration approved a blood test Wednesday that it says can help diagnose concussions more quickly, without the need for X-rays.
The test should save money and reduce a patient's exposure to radiation, according to the FDA.
"This test can get you to the final diagnosis faster and very accurately," said Jay Alberts, Ph.D and director of the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center.
With the test, doctors will know which patients need a computed tomography (CT) scan to check for brain damage. CT scans are a type of souped-up X-ray, which cost money and deliver radiation.
"This is a first step, on the tarmac so to speak, in which they're showing these markers can show if a person really needs a CT scan," said Dr. Ross Zafonte, a specialist in brain injury medicine at Harvard Medical School. "So this blood test precedes a CT scan unless you're showing signs of extreme trauma."
RELATED: Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
San Diego Chargers Junior Seau during a game against the New York Jets at the Qualcomm Stadium Sunday November 3, 2002, in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Frank Gifford provides the classic throwing motion in his University of Southern California Trojans uniform. Following his college days, Gifford went on to star for the NFL's New York Giants, then worked as a broadcaster for CBS and ABC's Monday Night Football. (University of Southern California/Collegiate Images via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 9: Quarterback Ken Stabler #12 of the Oakland Raiders on the ground after taking a hit during a game against the Cleveland Browns at Municipal Stadium on October 9, 1977 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Raiders defeated the Browns 26-10. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14: Defensive back Tyler Sash #39 of the New York Giants on the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 26-3. Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Inside linebacker Jovan Belcher #59 of the Kansas City Chiefs watches from the sidelines during his final game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 13: Offensive lineman Terry Long #74 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with offensive line coach Hal Hunter (R) on the sideline during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Three Rivers Stadium on September 13, 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Mike Webster #52 of Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during a game circa 1987 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Webster played for the Steelers from 1974-88. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Sporting News via Getty Images)
Quarterback Earl Morrall #15 of the Miami Dolphins looks on from the sidelines against the New York Jets during an NFL football game at The Orange Bowl November 19, 1972 in Miami, Florida. Morrall played for the Dolphins from 1972-76. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Defensive tackle Shane Dronett #75 of the Atlanta Falcons in action during the game against the New York Jets at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Falcons 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw /Allsport
Dave Duerson #22 of the Chicago Bears looks on during a game in the 1985 season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - DECEMBER 31: Guard John Wilbur #60 of the Washington Redskins rests on the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium in the 1972 NFC Championship Game on December 31, 1972 in Washington, D.C. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys 26-3. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 10: Defensive back Andre Waters #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sideline during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Veterans Stadium on December 10, 1989. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 20-10. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 21: New York Jets players tackle New England Patriots player Mosi Tatupu during a game at The Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J. on Sept. 21, 1987. The game was the last game before a strike in the NFL. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 31: Offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk #73 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the sideline during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Three Rivers Stadium on August 31, 1997 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
CIRCA 1968: Defensive Tackle Bubba Smith #78 of the Baltimore Colts is seen watching the action from the bench circa 1968 during an NFL football game. Smith played for the Colts from 1967-71. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 1: Running back Ollie Matson #33 of the Los Angeles Rams poses for a publicity photo during training camp at Chapman Colleg on August 1, 1961 in Orange, California. (Photo by Vic Stein /Getty Images)
FILE: Baltimore Colts HOFer John Mackey during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE - OCTOBER 11: Chris Henry #15 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 11, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Bengals defeated the Ravens 17-14. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 15: John Grimsley #59 of the Houston Oilers lines up during a football game against the Chicago Bears on October 15, 1989 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Oilers won 33-28. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Defensive end Pete Duranko of the Denver Broncos watches from the sideline against the San Diego Chargers at San Diego Stadium on September 24, 1972 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 37-14. (Photo by James Flores/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
"If there is doubt if the person has a head injury, they will get this new blood test. That's pretty important," Zafonte added.
It was a quick approval for the test.
"The FDA reviewed and authorized for marketing the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator in fewer than six months as part of its Breakthrough Devices Program," the FDA said in a statement.
Alberts said it will be most useful in the case of mild head injuries, when there's doubt about whether someone has a concussion.
"It doesn't replace CT in all cases," said Alberts. "The reason you do those scans is to rule out a clinically important brain injury, which would need surgery."
A CT scan or MRI would still be needed if a patient experiences major changes in function after a head injury.
"But in 99 percent of concussions you do not need a CT scan because they're not clinically important, meaning there's not an immediate need for surgery," said Alberts.
Concussions are a big problem. Nearly 2.8 million people visited U.S. emergency rooms in 2013 because of concussion or other traumatic brain injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) helped kill nearly 50,000 people that year. Research shows that even mild head injuries can lead to longer-term brain damage.
It's important that people who have concussions avoid anything that can worsen the damage in the short term.
"A blood-testing option for the evaluation of mild TBI/concussion not only provides health care professionals with a new tool, but also sets the stage for a more modernized standard of care for testing of suspected cases," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
A blood test for mild TBI/concussion will likely reduce the number of CT scans performed on patients with concussion each year.
"It's a time saver, a cost saver and there's no radiation exposure," Zafonte said. "The return to work or to play or to military (duty) is much higher."
Not only that, but concussions also often do not show up on CT scans.
"CT scans are expensive, inconvenient, and there is a substantial dose of radiation that comes with it. If you can avoid it, that's better," said Dr. Alexander Dromerick, professor of rehabilitation medicine and neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center.
The Brain Trauma Indicator measures two proteins called UCH-L1 and GFAP that the brain releases after injury. Tests showed it caught 97.5 percent of brain lesions and correctly cleared patients of concussion 99.6 percent of the time, the FDA said.