Penn: Visual Test Effective in Diagnosing Concussions in Collegiate Athletes

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Media Contact:Kim Menard | Kim.Menard@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-662-6183August 31, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — A sideline visual test effectively detected concussions in collegiate athletes, according to a team of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Concussed athletes scored an average of 5.9 seconds slower (worse) than the best baseline scores in healthy controls on the timed test, in which athletes read a series of numbers on cards and are scored on time and accuracy. This quick visual test, easily administered on the playing field, holds promise as a complement to other diagnostic tools for sports-related concussion.

Up to 3.8 million Americans sustain sports-related concussions each year, yet current methods fall short from objectively and quickly measuring the presence and severity of a concussion. Evidence-based protocols are needed, both on sidelines to prevent injured players from returning to play too soon, and off the field, for physicians to more accurately and effectively diagnose, treat and rehabilitate patients suffering from concussions.

"This test has demonstrated its ability to provide objective evidence to aid medical professionals and trainers in determining which athletes need to come out of games after a blow to the head," said Laura Balcer, MD, MSCE, professor of Neurology and senior author on the paper. "We'll continue to measure the test's effectiveness in different groups — players who play the same position who have and have not suffered concussions, for instance. It is our hope that the new test, once validated, can be folded into the current sideline battery of tests for concussion, as no single test at this time can be used to diagnose or manage concussion."

The King-Devick test, originally used as a dyslexia test, detects impaired eye movements and rapid eye movements called saccades, indicating diminished brain function. A previous study, published in Neurology, of this visual screening test for concussion found that boxers and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters who had head trauma during their matches had significantly higher (worse) post-fight time test scores. Fighters who lost consciousness were on average 18 seconds slower on the test after their bouts.

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