A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, inducing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although abbreviated or minor episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for worry, more extreme sensations of spinning (vertigo) or long term dizzy spells should be examined.
Apart from dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms such as nausea, increased heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are especially intense or extended, it’s a good idea to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are diverse, but before we get to that, let’s quickly review how the body normally sustains its sense of balance.
How the body maintains its balance
We take our body’s skill to maintain balance for granted because it customarily works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is quite an impressive feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to sense its position and make modifications to hold your body upright, while calling for little to any mindful control. Even when you close your eyes, and take away all visual signs, you can precisely sense the position of your head as you move it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the assortment of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect any modifications to your head position, sending nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear called 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, combined with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to precise 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 ability to evaluate and act on the information.
Balance disorders can for that reason 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 cardiovascular conditions, and some 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 begins by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that may be producing the symptoms. You may be required to change medications or seek out treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by 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 relieve the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer more information specific to your condition and symptoms.