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Published On: Fri, Dec 12th, 2014

What does your tongue say about your health?

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Human tongueBy Lizzie Parry

Indian scientists have developed a new test to detect what your tongue indicates about a person’s health. It can spot 14 different conditions

For those feeling under the weather, the old adage of ‘stick your tongue out’, may betray the signs of the illness by which they are afflicted.

The tongue can signal signs of a cough, fever, jaundice, headache or bowel habits, and helps doctors make their diagnosis.

A healthy tongue should be pink, clean and covered in papillae, which contain taste buds.

But inflamed, red, black or white tongues could be a sign of other conditions such as thrush, while a swollen tongue can be a sign of an allergic reaction.

Meanwhile a black, discoloured tongue is indicative of extended antibiotic use, or a fungal overgrowth in HIV patients, say Indian scientists.

And long furrows on the surface are a sign of the sexually transmitted infection, syphilis.

Ulcers should ring alarm bells, warning of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

And a ‘beefy and smooth’ tongue might reveal vitamin B12, iron or folate deficiency, and anemia.

Moving on to more serious conditions, sores or lumps on the tongue – or unexplained bleeding – can be a sign of mouth cancer, warns Cancer Research UK.

But for those living in remote parts of the world, where access to a doctor can be difficult, the simple act of checking a patient’s tongue can prove hard.

To combat the problem, scientists in India have now developed a new test.

The new diagnostic system, reported in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, works to combine symptoms with a digital analysis of an image of the patient’s tongue.

Karthik Ramamurthy, from Rajalakshmi Engineering College in Chennai, and Siddharth Kulkarni and Rahul Deshpande of School of Electronics Engineering at VIT University, have developed the new software.

The neural network can take ‘soft inputs’ – standard questions about symptoms – and a digital image of a patient’s tongue to help offer a likely diagnosis.

It aims to help decide if a professional healthcare worker should be sought out for further advice.

The digital images of the patient’s tongue reveal discolouration, engorgement, texture, and other factors linked to various illnesses.

The team’s automated diagnosis, however, ultilises the condition of the tongue in combination with other symptoms, to identify whether a patient has a common cold, flu, bronchitis, stretptococcal throat infection, sinusitis, allergies, asthma, pulmonary edema, and food poisoning.

In its current form the system allows diagnosis of 14 distinct conditions.

But the team hope they can soon add images of patient’s eyes to use as additional information, thus extending the system’s repertoire significantly.



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