Mayo Clinic researchers develop test to gauge severity of concussions

March 19, 2013

Neurologists at Mayo Clinic in Arizona have taken a promising step toward identifying a test that helps support the diagnosis of concussion. Their research has shown that autonomic reflex testing, which measures involuntary changes in heart rate and blood pressure, consistently appear to demonstrate significant changes in those with concussion. They presented the findings at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in San Diego this week.

Right now doctors rely primarily on self-reporting of symptoms to make a diagnosis of . In addition, other than the absence of symptoms, there is no reliable test to determine when an athlete's brain has fully recovered from concussion. Doctors know from brain imaging research studies, that there is a lag between when the patient reports that their symptoms have resolved and the time when the brain has actually healed. Therefore, a rapid, reliable, cost-effective tool is needed to identify full brain recovery from concussion.

"This has the potential to change the way we approach concussion patients," says David Dodick, M.D., a and director of the Concussion Program. "One of the challenges of treating someone with a concussion is to reliably make a diagnosis: to know when the brain is injured and to know when the brain is actually recovered."

"Autonomic nervous system dysfunction has long been recognized as a possible complication of people with severe but has rarely been associated with people with concussions or milder forms of injury," adds co-author Brent Goodman, M.D., a Mayo neurologist and autonomic expert. The acts as an involuntary control system for functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, respiratory rate and perspiration.

In the study, Mayo Clinic doctors monitored 21 consecutive patients after concussion, and all experienced significant abnormalities in and blood pressure during autonomic testing. The physicians conclude that these abnormalities are tied to the concussion.

"Contrary to popular belief, the symptoms of 'dizziness' that patients feel just after a concussion may, in some cases, be symptoms of autonomic system impairment rather than a vestibular or inner ear disturbance," says Bert Vargas, M.D., a Mayo neurologist.

More research is needed, but the Mayo team is optimistic, Dr. Dodick says.

"This study shows a possible electrophysiological biomarker that indicates that a concussion has occurred—we are hopeful that with more research this will be confirmed and that this may also be a biomarker for recovery," he says.

Explore further: Concussion treatment in rugby league may mislead public

Related Stories

Researchers develop more reliable concussion tests

November 1, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—It could happen during a nasty spill on the ski slopes, a hard tackle at football practice, or even a car accident. ASU nursing student Sarah Hollowell sustained her concussion playing intramural softball, ...

Case study validates teleconcussion

November 19, 2012

A program at Mayo Clinic using telemedicine technology is showing promise for patients with concussions in rural Arizona. A case study published in the December 2012 issue of Telemedicine and e-Health validates "teleconcussion" ...

Recommended for you

Wiring rules untangle brain circuitry

December 1, 2015

Our brains contain billions of neurons linked through trillions of synaptic connections, and although disentangling this wiring may seem like mission impossible, a research team from Baylor College of Medicine took on the ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.