A balance disorder is an ailment that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while short or trivial episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or sustained dizzy spells should be evaluated.
In conjunction with dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms like nausea, increased heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are particularly severe or prolonged, it’s a good idea to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are varied, but before we get to that, let’s quickly review how the body ordinarily maintains its sense of balance.
How the body maintains its balance
We take our body’s facility to maintain balance for granted because it usually works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is really an impressive feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its position and make modifications to keep your body upright, while requiring little to any conscious regulation. Even if you close your eyes, and take away all visual cues, you can precisely sense the position of your head as you shift it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the array of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any modifications to your head position, sending nerve signals to notify your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to 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, together 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 a consequence of a dysfunction within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capability 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 heart 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 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 begins by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that may be creating the symptoms. You may need 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 diet and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to alleviate the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide additional information specified to your condition and symptoms.