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In the most comprehensive Meniere’s Disease study to date, researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England have been able to suggest what goes wrong in the body when people develop the disease and provide an insight into factors that lead to its development.

Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes sudden episodes of vertigo — a sensation of a spinning motion — along with changing hearing loss, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. It is a long-term but non-fatal illness and has received little attention from the scientific community. Why people develop the condition and how symptoms occur have so far remained unclear, making diagnosis and treatment difficult.

With funding from the UK Ménière’s Society and data from the UK Biobank, the research team evaluated patient records from 1,376 Ménière’s sufferers. They found the disease is more prevalent in females and older people. Individuals from poorer backgrounds were also found to be more likely to develop the disease, as well as those who are overweight.

By comparing and contrasting their data with nearly half a million people without the condition, the team uncovered a link between Ménière’s Disease to other immune system disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease and arthritis.

The lead researcher on the Meniere’s disease study, Dr. Jessica Tyrrell said, “This study has provided several advances in our understanding of Ménière’s Disease. It seems likely that a dysfunctional immune system has some role in the development of the illness, and other factors, including the nervous system, are also playing a part.”

The analysis also showed that Ménière’s patients were more likely to suffer falls and mental health problems, such as depression, than people without the condition.

Natasha Harrington-Benton from the UK Ménière’s Society welcomed the findings, saying “Understanding the impact of Ménière’s on people’s physical and mental health is vital when providing information to people on how best to manage their symptoms. Ménière’s is a condition that can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in the early stages. The more information that can be given to those affected, the better equipped they’ll be to cope day-to-day.”

The study “Prevalence, Associated Factors, and Comorbid Conditions for Ménière’s Disease” is published in the journal Ear and Hearing.