Genetic test may aid concussion management

Jul. 06, 2013 @ 04:52 PM

Sports concussion has been a hot topic for several years, and the safety debate will heat up again when high school football players take the field in Union County and across the nation later this summer.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that changes the way your brain functions. It can cause serious or even permanent brain damage. That’s why it’s important to have a suspected concussion evaluated by a specialist.

But every brain is different, meaning there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Today, most experts and governing bodies, including the American Academy of Neurology, recommend personalized concussion care.

Some healthcare providers now have an innovative tool to help them develop personalized plans of care for patients who have suffered multiple concussions. Eric Warren, M.D., a board-certified sports medicine and family medicine physician with Waxhaw Family Physicians & Sports Medicine Center, is one of just a handful of providers in the state of North Carolina to offer a new genetic test that can help determine your likelihood of suffering additional concussions as well as your ability to recover.

The simple test checks a gene called ApoE, which makes a fat protein that helps protect brain cells from damage and helps damaged brain cells heal. Several forms of the ApoE gene have been connected to a higher risk of disease and potentially injury. For example, in one study of 196 college athletes, those who carried the less common forms of the gene were nearly 10 times as likely to have a known history of concussion. By determining the type of DNA you carry in your ApoE gene, Dr. Warren and other experts trained to offer this leading-edge test

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can make more informed decisions about when you should return to play, or if you should continue to play a high-impact or contact sport.

Dr. Warren recently saw a young teenager who has already suffered three concussions. “He wants to return to taekwondo and soccer, which are both high-risk sports,” said Dr. Warren. “His family ordered the ApoE test as an additional measurement to help us decide as a team whether he should continue to participate in those sports, or if he should switch to a lower-risk sport like swimming, track and field or basketball.”

The test is an important tool that Dr. Warren considers collectively with other means as he makes recommendations on behalf of his patients. For example, an athlete who has suffered multiple concussions but has a protective form of the ApoE gene could be at lower risk than an athlete who has had the same number of injuries but has a less favorable genetic makeup.

“It’s important to remember that no one is bulletproof,” said Dr. Warren. “If you’re in my office to get this test, you’ve had multiple concussions. And regardless of the result and how you choose to proceed, you have to be aware of your personal risk and be appropriately cautious.”

The test is quick and easy; Dr. Warren can reveal the secrets of your ApoE gene and add a next-generation tool to your post-concussion care toolkit with a simple cheek swab in his office during a five-minute visit. Test results are available within seven to 10 days. There is no risk associated with the test, and the ApoE gene is the only genetic information tested.

If you believe that you or a family member could be a candidate for the ApoE test, call Waxhaw Family Physicians & Sports Medicine Center at 704-384-8640 to make an appointment with Dr. Warren. To learn more about the practi