‘Mysterious Meniere’s disease is the poor relation in medicine’
Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear, was first described back in 1861, but there’s still no good test or treatment for it. Tjasse Bruintjes, Professor by Special Appointment of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery, wants more attention for this mysterious disease. And he wants to tell his fellow ENT doctors, who often feel helpless, that there is something they can do about it. Inaugural lecture on 18 June.
The symptoms of Meniere’s disease are dizzy spells, tinnitus and hearing loss. Bruintjes sees it as the poor relative in medicine. ‘Doctors often feel helpless if patients come to them with these symptoms. There still isn’t a test to see if someone really does have Meniere’s disease. And there’s no good treatment either.’
Special care plan
Although the cause of Meniere’s disease is still unknown, there are ways to help patients. ‘We focus on reducing the attacks, and they sometimes need psychological support or the help of a physiotherapist.’ Bruintjes is an ENT doctor at Gelre Hospital in Apeldoorn and was one of the founders of the dizziness centre 20 years ago. They have a special care plan for patients with dizziness, including those with Meniere’s disease.
Bruintjes wants to link his experiences in clinical practice in Apeldoorn to the research at the LUMC. He is involved in research into fluid retention in the inner ear, one of the characteristics of Meniere's disease. ‘You can use a special MRI to identify fluid in the inner ear. And there’s going to be research at the LUMC into whether hormone injections in the ear suppress the attacks.’ Bruintjes also hopes to discover whether balance tests will give a better idea of which stage of the disease patients are in.
As far as we know, 10,000 to 15,000 people in the Netherlands suffer from Meniere’s disease. It can occur at any age and the symptoms cause it to have a huge impact on people’s quality of life. ‘Patients can become anxious and insecure because it’s unclear when the next attack will come. Some have had symptoms for 20 years already and become avoidant or suffer from depression. The impact is enormous,’ says Bruintjes.
Bruintjes hopes that after his inaugural lecture Meniere’s disease, and other balance disorders, will once again be at the forefront of ENT doctors’ minds. ‘If doctors recognise the symptoms, an appropriate policies can be implemented. This will prevent unnecessary testing,’ he says.