A balance disorder is an ailment 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 worry, more extreme sensations of spinning (vertigo) or lengthy dizzy spells should be assessed.
Combined with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms like nausea, changes in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are especially intense or prolonged, 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 quickly review how the body ordinarily sustains its sense of balance.
How the body preserves its balance
We take our body’s facility to maintain balance for granted because it usually operates effortlessly behind-the-scenes. But when you give it some thought, 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 calling for very little to any mindful regulation. Even if you close your eyes, and do away with all visual signs, you can accurately sense the position of your head as you shift 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 alterations in your head position, sending nerve signals to advise your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear known as semicircular canals include three fluid-filled ducts placed at roughly 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, alerts the brain to exact modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are the result of a dysfunction within the vestibular system or with the brain and its ability to ascertain and use the information.
Balance disorders can consequently 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 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 unique 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 be required to change medications or seek out treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is due to 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 relieve the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide more information specified to your condition and symptoms.