Head injuries like concussions have plagued professional and college football players for decades. Because these particular injuries can have long lasting effects – especially when dealing with multiple concussions – research into treatment is incredibly important. Recently, researchers have found a certain type of blood test could be the answer when determining concussion severity in patients.
Earlier this month, researchers of the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center released findings from a study that revealed a simple blood test might predict the severity of a concussion. The study of the blood test – which is about as invasive as a spinal tap – focused on a biomarker called the neurofilament light chain. This is a nerve protein that can be detected within both the blood and spinal fluid when nerve cells are injured or die off.
The researchers studied over 100 professional Swedish hockey players with a median age of 27, as well as a control group of 14 healthy non-athletes. Just under half (45) of the hockey players had suffered a concussion within the first week of the study, 31 had multiple concussions over the same period, and 28 had no recent concussions or symptoms.
The players who sustained multiple concussions had a median of 18 picograms/milliliter (pg/mL) (one trillionth of a gram) of the protein biomarker their blood. Those with recent concussions had 12 pg/mL, and those with no recent concussions or symptoms had 10 pg/mL. The control group had nine pg/mL. These levels correlated with the levels in the participants’ spinal fluid. In addition, researchers also found the levels in the hockey players’ blood were strongly associated with more concussions and more severe concussions, even a year following the injury.
The level of biomarker in the players’ blood was found to accurately distinguish between mild, moderate, and severe concussions. The difference in biomarker levels between those with concussions and the control group was evident up to five years after concussion, according to the researchers.
Concussions and CTE in NCAA Football
Concussions and head injuries have been a major concern for both college and professional football players. Over the years, hundreds of players have come forward to file lawsuits against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and several major conferences for damages. The NCAA was first created in 1906 as an agency designed to protect student-athletes and to make college football safer than it once was, since during the preceding year, 18 players died playing college football.
The players involved in the litigation have argued the NCAA knew how dangerous head injuries and concussions could be for decades but did very little to protect student athletes.
Concussions in College Football
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that affects brain function. While the effects of a concussion are usually temporary, multiple concussions sustained over time – as seen in both college and professional football – can cause serious, long-term damage. Concussions are typically caused by a blow to the head that causes the brain to bounce rapidly against the skull. Symptoms of a concussion can include:
Loss of consciousness
Nausea and/or vomiting
Loss of memory of events surrounding the injury
Research has shown athletes who sustain repeated concussions are more likely to get long-term brain damage, including a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that mimics dementia.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma. CTE has been diagnosed in former football players from over 130 college football programs. Research from the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank – a collaboration between the VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation – shows each conference within the college football Power 5 conferences: Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and Southeastern Conference (SEC), has at least one school represented amongst the 26 college football programs with three or more confirmed cases of CTE. The 26 programs, which have three or more confirmed cases, have 83 combined national championships.
A 2018 study published by the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank found that 190 of 202 football players (or 94%) that were studied who played in college or the NFL had been diagnosed with CTE.
Those who suffer from CTE will experience symptoms in four different phases, including:
During the first phase of CTE, the patient experiences headaches and loss of attention and concentration. Some people can also experience short-term memory loss, depression, and aggressiveness.
The second phase of CTE includes depression, mood swings, and memory loss, with a smaller percentage experiencing executive dysfunction, impulsivity, suicidal thoughts, and language changes.
In phase three of CTE, patients experience continued bouts of erectile dysfunction, memory loss, and concentration issues, along with visuospatial difficulties, apathy, and cognitive impairment.
In the final phase of CTE, patients experience severe cognition problems, with many progressing to full-blown dementia. Common symptoms during this stage include profound loss of attention, paranoia, depression, and gait and visuospatial difficulties.
Texas NCAA Head Injury Attorneys
Concussions and head injuries have affected countless college and professional football players over the years. While researchers are working to diagnose these issues as early as possible, reports of concussions in football players and their long-term effects continue to rise. At Raizner Law, we represent many clients in concussion-related lawsuits against the NCAA, universities, and athletic conferences. If you or someone you know has suffered a concussion or head injury as a result of playing college or professional sports, contact us today to see how we can help.