A balance disorder is an ailment that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, inducing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although brief or minor episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for concern, more severe sensations of spinning (vertigo) or protracted dizzy spells should be examined.
On top of dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms including nausea, increased 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 numerous, but before we get to that, let’s briefly review how the body ordinarily sustains its sense of balance.
How the body preserves its balance
We take the body’s ability to maintain balance for granted because it customarily 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 perceive its location in space and make corrections to keep your body upright, while requiring very little to any mindful control. Even when you close your eyes, and remove 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 group of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect any modifications to your head position, sending nerve signals to inform your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear known as semicircular canals have 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, coupled with 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 result from a dysfunction within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to analyze and use the information.
Balance disorders can for that reason be caused by anything that affects 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 cardiovascular 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 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 may be resulting in the symptoms. You might be required to switch medications or seek treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by problems with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may consist of nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to alleviate the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide additional information specific to your condition and symptoms.