A balance disorder is a condition that causes you to feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although short or trivial episodes of dizziness are common and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or lengthy dizzy spells should be examined.
In addition to dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms like nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are particularly extreme or prolonged, it’s best to seek professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are varied, but before we get to that, let’s briefly review how the body normally sustains its sense of balance.
How the body preserves its balance
We take our body’s skill to maintain balance for granted because it typically operates effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is really an incredible feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its location in space and make corrections to hold your body upright, while calling for little to any conscious regulation. Even when you close your eyes, and do away with all visual signs, you can accurately 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 sense any changes in your head position, transmitting nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear called semicircular canals include three fluid-filled ducts positioned 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, in addition to visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to exact changes in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders result from a disturbance within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to analyze and act on the information.
Balance disorders can for that reason be caused by anything that has an effect on 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 some neurological conditions.
Common balance disorders include Meniere’s Disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuronitis, together with many others. Each disorder has its own specific 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 starts by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that might be causing the symptoms. You might need to change medications or seek out treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by issues 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 lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide more information specific to your condition and symptoms.