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Eye-Tracking Tool Might Quickly Spot Stroke

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"There are 500 otolaryngologists and 4 million dizzy patients in the U.S. alone," Newman-Toker said. "We [otolaryngologists] can't see everybody and [emergency room physicians] can't easily be trained to develop expertise in eye movement interpretation."

"Now we have a device that can do it for them," he added.

The test is simple to perform: Wearing a pair of goggles hooked up to a webcam and special software, the patient is asked to focus on one spot on the wall while the doctor moves the patient's head from side to side.

"Normally, the balance system in the ears keeps our eyes stable when our head is moving," Newman-Toker explained.

For people with vertigo, the test is "almost always abnormal," he said. But stroke patients, even though they have the same dizzy symptoms, don't have this impairment.

In this small, "proof-of-concept" study, the test was 100 percent accurate when compared with MRI, sorting out six people with strokes and six without, the researchers said.

Newman-Toker believes the test could one day be incorporated into a smartphone application.

Labovitz said the device could be a "game changer" if its value is confirmed in larger studies. "This is such an important area where we struggle all the time," he said.

GN Otometrics, which makes the device, loaned the devices for the study, but the research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and other Swiss and U.S. health organizations.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on stroke.

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