A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while abbreviated or minor episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for concern, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or lengthy dizzy spells should be evaluated.
Apart from dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms such as nausea, a change in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are particularly extreme or extended, it’s a good idea 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 ordinarily sustains its sense of balance.
How the body keeps its balance
We take the body’s skill to maintain balance for granted because it customarily operates effortlessly behind-the-scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is really an extraordinary feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive 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 array of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any alterations in your head position, transmitting nerve signals to notify your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear called semicircular canals possess three fluid-filled ducts placed at approximately 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 highly accurate changes in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders result from a disruption within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to ascertain 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 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, along 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 begins by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that may be resulting in the symptoms. You may need to change medications or seek treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is due to problems with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may include things like dietary and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to reduce the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide more information specific to your condition and symptoms.