According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, although the majority of concussions that are diagnosed annually occur in children, clinical guidelines are usually based on adult concussion sufferers. The lack of guidelines may limit the ability of pediatricians to accurately predict the duration of a child’s symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, and concentration problems — which can interfere with school and other activities.

In many concussion cases, concussion symptoms last only a few days. However, up to 25 percent of children have prolonged concussion symptoms which can last for months.

Concussion Symptom Saliva Test Study Presented at Annual Meeting

New research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting suggests that a saliva test for children may offer answers as to how long concussion symptoms will last. Researchers presented an abstract of the study, “Peripheral microRNA patterns predict prolonged concussion symptoms in pediatric patients.” The PAS Meeting is produced through a partnership of four organizations: Academic Pediatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, and Society for Pediatric Research.

Results of Concussion Symptom Saliva Test Study

Following a concussion, injured brain cells release fragments of genetic material (microRNAs) which show up in blood and saliva. Studies have found altered micro ribonucleic acids (miRNA) levels in the saliva of children with mild concussions. Similar miRNA changes have been found in cerebrospinal fluid of patients with severe brain injury.

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine studied 50 children, ages 7 to 18 years old who experienced mild traumatic brain injury. Spit samples from each child were tested for miRNA levels. Concussion symptoms were evaluated through the parent and child Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT-3) surveys.

Researchers found that salivary miRNA levels were more effective than SCAT-3 surveys in predicting which children would continue to experience concussion symptoms that lasted longer than four weeks. The SCAT-3 surveys were less than 70 percent accurate in identifying children who would have prolonged concussion symptoms. The miRNA saliva test correctly predicted whether concussion symptoms would last for at least a month nearly 90 percent of the time.

The saliva-based RNA testing indicates the potential for an accurate and non-invasive method to evaluate pediatric concussions and provide a more accurate prognosis.