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Eye-Tracking Device can Detect Stroke

Mar 07, 2013 05:38 AM EST

A simple device that can be mounted on a bed-side table uses eye-tracking system to find whether or not a person is experiencing mild dizziness or stroke, according to a new study.

The device will help reduce the number of hundreds of thousands of misdiagnosed strokes, researchers say.

"Using this device can directly predict who has had a stroke and who has not. We're spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on expensive stroke work-ups that are unnecessary, and probably missing the chance to save tens of thousands of lives because we aren't properly diagnosing their dizziness or vertigo as stroke symptoms," David Newman-Toker, M.D., and lead author of the study said in a statement.

Just like not every chest pain is a sign of heart attack, not every dizzy feeling is a sign of stroke. However, many people are misdiagnosed with stroke and given stroke-related treatments. The device can one day be used as an equivalent to electrocardiogram (EKG), which is used to detect heart attack in patients with chest pain, researchers said.

Doctors often make use of simple tests to determine if the person has stroke or not. These tests, according to Newman-Toker, are as accurate as immediate brain scans. One of these tests is the horizontal head impulse test where the patient is asked to look at a target on the wall while the doctor or a technician moves the patient's head from one side to another. Newman-Toker says that the technique requires much expertise as the doctor has to keenly observe the patient's eye-movements.

In the study, researchers used the same technique, but used a small device to conduct it. The device had a "video-oculography machine" that checks the movement of the eye with far greater accuracy than a physician. The patient wears a set of goggles with a USB-connected webcam and an accelerometer.

The webcam is connected to a laptop where specific software decodes the eye position; the accelerometer is used to track the speed of the eye movement.

The small study was based on 12 patients who were later given MRI tests. The device detected stroke in six patients and mild condition in the rest. Brain scans then confirmed the study's findings.

The device is developed by GN Otometrics and is not approved for use in the U.S. 

There are about 795,000 people in the U.S. who have a stroke in a given year and a whopping 610,000 are first-time strokes. The condition is not only the leading cause of death in the country, but also one of the leading causes of disability in older American citizens, according to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a stroke is when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells. Sudden dizziness, numbness or weaknesses especially on one side of the body, and loss of balance are a few symptoms of stroke.

The study is published in the journal Stroke.           

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