A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, producing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while abbreviated or minor episodes of dizziness are common and no cause for concern, more intense sensations of spinning (vertigo) or sustained dizzy spells should be evaluated.
In conjunction with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms like nausea, changes in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are especially severe or prolonged, it’s best 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 maintains its sense of balance.
How the body preserves its balance
We take our body’s ability to maintain balance for granted because it customarily 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 sense its position and make modifications to keep your body upright, while requiring very little to any mindful control. Even if you close your eyes, and take away all visual signs, you can precisely sense the position of your head as you shift it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the collection 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 referred to as semicircular canals contain 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 precise modifications 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 capability to evaluate and use the information.
Balance disorders can consequently be caused by anything that disturbs 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 heart conditions, and certain 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 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 starts by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that may be producing the symptoms. You may be required to switch medications or seek out treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by issues with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may include nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to alleviate the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can supply more information specified to your condition and symptoms.