Astronaut tests help doctors in Abu Dhabi to diagnose dizzy spells

Patients who have experienced head trauma can visit balance clinic to resolve chronic issues

Technology originally developed for US space agency Nasa is being used to help patients with persistent dizziness at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s new specialised balance clinic.
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A balance test used by Nasa astronauts in space training programmes has been adapted by doctors in Abu Dhabi to help patients suffering from chronic dizziness.

Delivered through a headset and goggles, the interactive test measures a patient’s response to movement.

Computer readings then give medics an objective assessment of both balance and stability to determine the root cause of symptoms and set out an effective treatment plan.

The same programme is used on astronauts to assess their balance, before and after missions into space.

Patients can go from being active and engaged to feeling as though they can’t face doing anything anymore
Dr Mark Bassim

“When patients come to our clinic, their main problem is that they don’t have an answer to why they’re feeling this way,” said Dr Mark Bassim, the otologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Balance Clinic.

“Some of them would have been feeling dizzy or living in fear of dizzy spells for five, ten or even fifteen years. I make it very clear to our patients that living with dizziness is not OK.

“Our mission here is to find the answer to their problem and get them the treatment they need to take their lives back.”

Dizziness is common among astronauts returning to Earth as blood drains from their heads towards their lower bodies.

On Earth, gravity pulls blood towards the lower body but in space, while astronauts are weightless, much of the blood that is normally in the legs moves to the upper body.

The more time spent in space, the longer the dizziness is likely to last.

US space agency Nasa developed tests to understand how to counter the problem during astronaut training programmes.

Prevention methods include drinking salt water to increase body fluid, medication to narrow blood vessels and G-suits inflated with air to push blood back around the body to balance out the pressure.

Loss of balance or dizzy spells can be crippling, making it difficult to stand or walk for any length of time.

Symptoms can develop after experiencing a physical head trauma or brain injury event, such as a stroke.

Doctors measure balance by asking patients to stand on one leg on a connected footpad, which relays information to a computer to evaluate the response.

Other equipment includes a cradle and harness to perform a posturography test, in which a patient is secured, to understand the extent of their dizziness and balance control.

Space age technology originally developed for Nasa is being used help diagnose patients with persistent dizziness at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s new specialised balance clinic.

Meanwhile a headset worn by the patient performs an eye movement test, called a videonystagmography.

It gives information about how certain parts of the inner ear system and eye reflexes are functioning, with eye movement responses recorded when warm and cool water is put into the ear canal.

Depending on the cause of a patient’s dizziness, they may be treated using medication, surgery or a combination of both.

“Dizziness can affect a person’s quality of life at the most fundamental level,” said Dr Bassim.

“Patients can go from being active and engaged to feeling as though they can’t do anything, any more.

“With the right care, the improvement we see in patients is truly fantastic, even in those who had given up hope of ever seeing an improvement.”

Updated: August 18, 2021, 2:20 PM