TUESDAY, Nov. 13, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- The long-term effects of head injuries in football players begin at a young age, a new study finds.
Researchers tested college football players' blood for concussion markers and found that they had elevated levels of these markers before the season even started.
"It was quite shocking to learn that the biomarkers were high before they were even involved in one hit or tackle for the season," said study author Dr. Linda Papa. She's an emergency medicine physician at Orlando Health, in Florida.
"This suggests that the effects of past head injuries are persisting over time," she said in an Orlando Health news release.
Players with balance and memory problems also had higher levels of these markers, the investigators found.
"Some of these players had never been diagnosed with a concussion but they still had elevated biomarker levels in their blood, indicating they likely experienced head injuries that were not severe enough to be clinically diagnosed, but still caused damage. These injuries are also known as subconcussive injuries," Papa said.
It may be possible to use these markers to help identify players who've suffered less-severe head injuries but are at risk and require treatment, she suggested.
"We're hoping that the biomarkers are actually going to give us a quantity of injury, rather than just saying whether this a concussion or not," Papa said. "We can say to these players, 'Yes, I can see you have had an injury because the levels of the biomarkers are elevated, and now we are going to help you.' "
The study improves understanding of how continuous hits to the head can lead to long-term problems and shows the importance of monitoring football players' brain health.
"There is a lot more awareness about head injuries than there used to be, and it's really up to each parent to do their research and talk to coaches and athletic trainers," Papa said.
"Researchers from across the country are coming together to examine this issue," she noted. By being aware of the dangers and risks, it then makes it possible to take steps to minimize the harm, Papa suggested.
The report was published online recently in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on sports-related concussions.