A study published in Neurology suggests that biomarkers in the blood may help to identify which athletes might need more recovery time after concussion. The study involved 41 high school and college football players who experienced a concussion during the season (none of the players lost consciousness from their concussion). These players were compared with 43 players of the same level, age, and position who did not have a concussion.
All participants in the study had blood tests at the beginning of the season. Those who had concussions had blood tests within 6 hours after the injury, again 24 to 48 hours later, and at 8 days, 15 days, and 45 days after the event. For comparison, those who did not have concussions had tests at similar times. The tests evaluated levels of 7 biomarkers for inflammation that have been connected with more severe brain injury. Of those biomarkers, 2 were elevated in those with concussion 6 hours after the injury—interleukin 6 and interleukin 1 receptor antagonist.
Those with concussions had mean interleukin 6 levels of 1.01 pg/mL 6 hours after the injury, compared with a mean of 0.39 pg/mL for those without concussions. Athletes with higher levels of interleukin 6 after the injury were more likely to take longer to recover. For the 17 athletes who had high interleukin 6 levels, concussion symptoms remained 8 days after the injury.
“With so many people sustaining concussions and a sizeable number of them having prolonged symptoms and recovery, any tools we can develop to help determine who would be at a greater risk of problems would be very beneficial, so these results are a crucial first step,” said Timothy B. Meier, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin. “These results demonstrate a meaningful increase in the levels of interleukin 6 for athletes who sustained a concussion compared to athletes who did not. Eventually, these results may help us better understand the relationship between injury and inflammation and potentially lead to new treatments.”