A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although abbreviated or trivial episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for worry, more severe sensations of spinning (vertigo) or prolonged dizzy spells should be examined.
In combination with dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms such as nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are especially severe or extended, it’s wise to seek 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 sustains its sense of balance.
How the body maintains its balance
We take the body’s skill to maintain balance for granted because it customarily works effortlessly behind-the-scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is really an extraordinary feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its location in space and make corrections to keep your body upright, while requiring very little to any mindful control. Even when you close your eyes, and do away with all visual signs, you can accurately sense the position of your head as you shift it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the array of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect any changes in your head position, sending nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals include three fluid-filled ducts placed at roughly 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, coupled with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to highly accurate modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are the result of a disruption within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to assess and use the information.
Balance disorders can consequently be caused by anything that influences the inner ear or brain. This list includes, but is not limited to, medications, benign tumors, ear infections, head injuries, low blood pressure or other heart 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 might be triggering the symptoms. You might need to change medications or seek treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by problems with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may include things like nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide more information specific to your condition and symptoms.