Future doctors will be able to know if a person is suffering from a concussion and how long will the symptoms last by just analyzing the patient’s spit. The Penn State College of Medicine researchers said this Monday that their new study could find trials of a small molecule usually related to this traumatism in the human saliva. Though not often deadly, this kind of injuries to the head might lead to several consequences.

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries often produced when a person is hit by a notably-hard force, either on the head or body. Besides the common pain that the patient usually feels after being smashed, concussions make people experience a different range of symptoms similar to headaches or “pressure” in the head  such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, memory problems, difficulty concentrating balance problems, double or blurry vision, and sluggishness.

Although the symptoms can last up to two weeks, about one-third of patients experience them longer.

The researchers gathered young concussed patients and studied the levels of a molecule called microRNA  little fragments of noncoding RNA that can be found in various human fluids, like blood, saliva or cerebral fluid. They realized that the particles could be used to measure the time the patients are going to suffer the concussion and how severe their injuries are.

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Football players tend to suffer from concussions when their heads collide one to another. Image credit: Liberty voice

The lead researcher and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, Dr. Steve Hicks, said that the “standard survey measures” found in clinics commonly let doctors predict the period that the symptoms can last with just 65 percent of accuracy. However, the “five microRNAs” that were found in some children’s saliva could identify with 85 percent of accuracy that they were going to have the symptoms until “one month later.”

Kids are the most affected by concussions

In 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were around 2.8 million American people whose concussions lead them to visit ERs, being hospitalized or die. Hicks and his team also said that the majority of patients who tend to suffer from concussions are children and young adults.

“It’s frustrating for both parents and physicians that we can’t accurately and objectively predict how long a child’s concussion symptoms might last, what those symptoms are likely to consist of and when it might be safe for them to return to sports or school,” said Hicks.

At the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, the researchers gathered 52 patients between the ages of 7 and 21  the average age was 14  that had been recently injured in car or sports accidents. The experts demanded them to spit on a cup to later analyze the amount of microRNA contained in their saliva.

The results not only showed that the molecules notified experts about the presence of the cerebral injury. From the 52 patients, the scientists said that 30 would have the symptoms longer than the other group of 22 kids.

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Hicks said that two-thirds of patients who suffer from concussions are kids. Image credit: The Week

According to Hicks, the technology employed to find the levels of microRNA is already being used in medicine nowadays for “upper respiratory viruses in our hospitals and clinics.” He said that doctors would be able in the future to “provide a rapid, objective tool for managing brain injury.”

“We found three microRNAs that were highly associated with specific symptoms one month after injury, such as headache, fatigue and memory difficulties,” Hicks said.

Hicks also said that his team worked with Quadrant Biosciences, a biotech company that wants to commercialize saliva tests for concussions in one to two years.

More accuracy in using saliva 

When patients are diagnosed with concussions, doctors usually recommend them to rest and avoid hard physical activities — like sports or some jobs  until the symptoms start to disappear. However, the experts can’t exactly predict how much time each person needs. According to Hicks, it’s very important that every patient takes their time off seriously.

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Parents should secure their children in cars to avoid accidents, one of the main causes of concussions. Image credits: The Sun

“Previous research has focused on proteins, but this approach is limited because proteins have a hard time crossing the blood-brain barrier,” said Hicks. “What’s novel about this study is we looked at microRNAs instead of proteins, and we decided to look in saliva rather than blood.”

The lead author and general pediatrician, who often attends children with concussions, considers that the tools the doctors use to diagnose and manage concussions are “subjective.”

After performing the typical exams to obtain the due data from the patients, doctors are only able to tell them how long they should rest based on an “educated guess.” However, as he said, those guesses “aren’t evidence-based and aren’t always accurate.”

Source: The JAMA Network