Saliva test might predict seriousness of concussion

Pennsylvania researchers may have identified an important and easy-to-test marker of how long a child’s concussion is likely to last. At a Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in California, researchers from Penn State reported that a test that measured the presence of a type of genetic material called microRNAs was 90 percent accurate in its identification of children whose symptoms would last a month or more. A commonly used concussion survey, by comparison, is correct less than 70 percent of the time.

About 1 million adolescents and children suffer each year from a concussion, and in many cases, the concussion is sports-related. While symptoms generally go away after a few days, in up to 1 in 4 cases, children may suffer symptoms for months that include headaches, nausea and fatigue. Presently, there is no way to predict which children will have longer-term problems.

The test works because in an effort to heal itself after a concussion, the brain releases microRNAs. Researchers identified one microRNA that predicted when children would struggle with problem solving and memory. With an accurate test, children could stay home from school and avoid activities that could reinjure the brain until they are fully healed. A blood test might even prove more accurate than a saliva test since it contains more microRNAs.

This difficulty in predicting the course of concussions and other brain injuries can make it hard to assess the seriousness of such an injury shortly after it happens. With a traumatic brain injury, which can be permanent, symptoms may also not appear immediately. This may pose difficulties for a victim who incurred the injury as a result of another party’s negligence, and thus having the assistance of an attorney can be advisable.