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 minor episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or long term dizzy spells should be assessed.
In combination with dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms like nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are especially intense or extended, it’s wise 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 maintains its sense of balance.
How the body keeps its balance
We take our body’s capacity to maintain balance for granted because it customarily works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is really an impressive feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to sense its location in space and make corrections to keep your body upright, while calling for little to any mindful control. Even when you close your eyes, and take away all visual cues, 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 collection of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect any changes in your head position, transmitting nerve signals to notify your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals include three fluid-filled ducts positioned at about right angles to each other. When you move your head, the fluid moves along with it, stimulating the nerve cells that send the information to your brain.
This, along with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, alerts the brain to exact modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are the result of a disturbance within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capability to assess and act on the information.
Balance disorders can for that reason be caused by anything that disturbs 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, together with several 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 resulting in the symptoms. You might be required to switch medications or seek out treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is a consequence of issues with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may consist of diet and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to alleviate the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer more information specific to your condition and symptoms.