Spit test could diagnose concussion in kids, study says


It can be difficult to tell how a long a concussion will last. However, a spit test may soon be able to diagnose and determine the duration, according to a new a report. 

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Researchers from Penn State University recently conducted a small experiment, published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, to explore whether saliva can be used to identify prolonged concussion symptoms, which can include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, balance problems, double or blurry vision. 

First, they examined saliva, discovering that it contains five small molecules called microRNAs, which influence protein levels. 

MicroRNAs also exhibit some predictive functions, because they include genetic fragments that reveal specific information about an individual’s health.

“Because of their abundance, stability in fluctuating pH levels, resistance to enzymatic degradation, and essential role in transcriptional regulation, miRNAs make ideal biomarkers,” the study read.

>> Related: Which high school sports have the most concussions? 

They then tested their theory by observing 52 children, teens and young adults. They measured the patients’ microRNAs by asking them to spit in cups. 

After analyzing the results, they found the microRNAs in saliva correctly identified children and adolescents with concussions 85 percent of the time. It also identified  those who had symptoms for at least a month. Standard surveys commonly used by doctors are only about 65 percent accurate.

Researchers said a concussion spit test could offer several benefits, including management of the condition and symptom testing.

“The miRNAs associated with prolonged concussion symptoms have potential utility as a toolset for facilitating concussion management. This tool could ease parental anxiety about expected symptom duration. An objective prolonged concussion symptoms tool could also inform clinical recommendations about return-to-play and school-based accommodations,” the authors wrote

Researchers did note that some patients used anti-inflammatory medicine, which could have altered their findings. They also acknowledged the size of the of study, explaining that a larger cohort would be needed to verify conclusions. 

>> Related: Football players under 12 at high risk of brain injury, study finds

In the future, they hope to study other biomarkers, such as blood, that could also yield the same results. 


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