A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, producing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although short or minor episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or protracted dizzy spells should be evaluated.
Combined with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms like nausea, variations 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 ordinarily maintains its sense of balance.
How the body sustains its balance
We take the body’s capacity to maintain balance for granted because it normally operates effortlessly behind-the-scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is quite an impressive feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its location in space and make corrections to keep your body upright, while calling for very little to any conscious control. Even if you close your eyes, and take away 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 assortment of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense 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 possess three fluid-filled ducts placed 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, signals the brain to precise changes 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 capability to ascertain and act upon 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 limited 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 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 resulting in the symptoms. You may be required to switch medications or seek treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by problems with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may incorporate diet and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to reduce the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide additional information specified to your condition and symptoms.