A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, inducing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although short or minor episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for concern, more extreme sensations of spinning (vertigo) or protracted dizzy spells should be examined.
Apart from dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms including nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are particularly severe or prolonged, it’s wise 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 ordinarily preserves its sense of balance.
How the body keeps its balance
We take the body’s facility to maintain balance for granted because it usually works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is quite an extraordinary feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to sense its location in space and make modifications to hold your body upright, while calling for little to any conscious regulation. Even when you close your eyes, and do away with all visual signs, 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 group of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect any changes in your head position, transmitting nerve signals to inform your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals possess three fluid-filled ducts placed at roughly 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, in addition to visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, alerts the brain to highly accurate changes in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are the result of a disruption within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capability to evaluate and act upon the information.
Balance disorders can consequently 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 some neurological conditions.
Common balance disorders include Meniere’s Disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuronitis, along with many 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 resulting in the symptoms. You might be required to change medications or seek out treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by issues with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may include nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can supply additional information specific to your condition and symptoms.