A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, inducing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while short or minor episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or long term dizzy spells should be assessed.
Coupled with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms including nausea, changes in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are particularly extreme or extended, it’s best to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are varied, but before we get to that, let’s briefly review how the body normally maintains its sense of balance.
How the body sustains its balance
We take the body’s facility to maintain balance for granted because it typically works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is quite an incredible feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to sense its position and make modifications to hold your body upright, while requiring very little to any conscious regulation. Even when you close your eyes, and do away with all visual cues, 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 sense any modifications to your head position, transmitting nerve signals to advise your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to 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, alerts the brain to highly accurate modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are the result of a disturbance within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to evaluate 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 restricted 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 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 causing the symptoms. You might be required to switch medications or seek out treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is due to problems 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 minimize the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer more information specific to your condition and symptoms.