Concussion Severity And Length May Be Diagnosed Through Spit Test: Study

New research suggests that a simple saliva test may be the best way to predict how long children will experience symptoms following a concussion. 

In a study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics on November 20, researchers detail how microRNA levels in saliva may be used to predict which children will continue to have concussion symptoms after one month, which is typically a measure of a more severe blow to the head, as most symptoms subside within a few days or weeks.

Researchers from Penn State Medical Center tested the saliva of 52 children and young adults, ages seven to 21 years old, with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). The patients presented for concussion evaluation within 14 days of the initial head injury and had follow-ups four and eight weeks later.

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The saliva tests for each patient measured 15 different microRNA levels, which are alterations in epigenetic molecules. They influence protein activities in the body and are measured in biological fluids including blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and saliva.

Levels of three microRNAs were linked with specific symptoms four weeks after the initial head injury. Those included headaches, fatigue, and memory problems.

The microRNA testing was 85% accurate in predicting prolonged concussion symptoms

Researchers said the microRNA saliva tests outperformed standard surveys used to predict prolonged concussion symptoms. Those surveys, the SCAT3 scores, use symptoms to measure of symptom burden. SCAT3 scores typically perform at 65% accuracy.

The study’s findings indicate concentrations of five salivary microRNAs indicate prolonged concussion symptoms. Prolonged symptoms of concussion may include dizziness, headaches, nausea, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, behavior issues, aggressive behavior, and other symptoms.

Previous research indicates that mild concussions may cause brain damage even after prolonged symptoms of concussion are gone. This is why it is important to measure the risk early on. Brain damage may be suffered even after only a single episode of mild traumatic brain injury, or a typical concussion.

Other studies have linked concussions in children and teens to increased risk of depression, increased risk of other emotional problems, such as anxiety, and a lower quality of life overall, affecting education performance and social interaction.

Researchers said the saliva test offers an “accurate, objective, and easily collected” measure of concussion symptom risk. While other measures of concussion symptoms may help predict prolonged symptoms, the saliva tests appears to be the most accurate, the researchers determined.

A study published in 2016 indicated concussion rates among children and teens have nearly doubled in recent years. Since 1990, concussions or head injuries among children have increased by 1600%.

Roughly one-third of children who suffer a concussion will have continued symptoms for weeks or months. Yet, there is no conclusive way to easily and accurately test for prolonged concussion symptoms. Researchers hope the findings of the study will translate to a usable test among children.


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