A balance disorder is an ailment that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, inducing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although abbreviated or trivial episodes of dizziness are common and no cause for concern, more intense sensations of spinning (vertigo) or protracted dizzy spells should be examined.
In combination with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms including nausea, a change in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are especially extreme or extended, it’s best to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are diverse, but before we get to that, let’s briefly review how the body ordinarily sustains its sense of balance.
How the body keeps its balance
We take the body’s ability to maintain balance for granted because it usually operates effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is quite an extraordinary feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to sense its location in space and make modifications to hold your body upright, while requiring little to any mindful control. Even if you close your eyes, and eliminate 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 collection of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any modifications to your head position, transmitting nerve signals to inform your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals possess three fluid-filled ducts positioned at roughly 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 changes in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are the result of a disruption within the vestibular system or with the brain and its ability to examine and use 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 cardiovascular 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 distinct 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 creating the symptoms. You may need to change medications or seek treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is due to issues with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may incorporate nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer more information specified to your condition and symptoms.