A balance disorder is a condition that causes you to feel dizzy or unsteady, inducing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while brief or minor episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for concern, more extreme sensations of spinning (vertigo) or chronic dizzy spells should be assessed.
Coupled with dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms such as nausea, a change in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are particularly severe or extended, it’s wise to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are numerous, 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 ability to maintain balance for granted because it normally 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 position and make corrections to keep your body upright, while requiring very little to any mindful control. Even if you close your eyes, and remove all visual cues, 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 detect any alterations in your head position, transmitting nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear known as semicircular canals include three fluid-filled ducts positioned 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 combination with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to exact modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are a consequence of a disturbance within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to examine and use 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 limited 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, along 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 may be creating the symptoms. You may need 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 dietary and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can supply additional information specified to your condition and symptoms.