A balance disorder is an ailment that causes you to feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while abbreviated or trivial episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or long term dizzy spells should be examined.
Combined with dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms including nausea, changes in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are particularly intense or extended, it’s best to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are numerous, but before we get to that, let’s quickly review how the body normally maintains its sense of balance.
How the body keeps its balance
We take the body’s facility to maintain balance for granted because it customarily works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is quite an incredible feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to sense its location in space and make modifications to keep your body upright, while calling for very little to any conscious regulation. Even when you close your eyes, and take away all visual signs, you can precisely sense the position of your head as you move it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the group of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect any modifications to your head position, transmitting nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear known as semicircular canals include three fluid-filled ducts placed at about right angles to each other. When you move your head, the fluid moves together with it, stimulating the nerve cells that send the information to your brain.
This, along with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to exact modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are a consequence of a disruption within the vestibular system or with the brain and its ability to assess and act on the information.
Balance disorders can for that reason be caused by anything that impacts the inner ear or brain. This list includes, but is not restricted to, medications, benign tumors, ear infections, head injuries, low blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions, and certain neurological conditions.
Common balance disorders include Meniere’s Disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuronitis, along with many others. Each disorder has its own unique causes and symptoms and can be diagnosed only by a professional.
Diagnosis and treatment of balance disorders
The diagnosis and treatment of any balance disorder begins by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that may be producing the symptoms. You may need to switch medications or seek treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by problems with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may incorporate diet and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to alleviate the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer more information specified to your condition and symptoms.